The Government’s bid to make Britain that little bit more like Australia, in a bad way, by requiring cigarettes to be sold in plain white packaging may well be announced on that annual irritant, No Smoking Day, next Wednesday. And for good measure, it may throw in a ban on smoking in cars carrying children under 16. The only upshot of that last one will be to make it that bit more difficult to get a lift for a child.
I am not a serious smoker. I can manage perhaps two or three cigarettes a year, Clinton style, but that’s enough to forfeit a premium rate of life insurance (actually a life insurance computer can’t handle a smoking rate of less than five a week). I don’t care at all for the smell of stale smoke. So I’m not a particularly interested party, except as an occasional patron of tobacconists, the sort where you just might get Balkan Sobranies. But the prospect of ranks of white packets when I do make it to Davidoff is a grim prospect.
Look, tobacco is a perfectly legal stimulant. It will, taken in sufficient quantities, shorten your lifespan, but so too will drinking to excess, and we’re not yet contemplating selling Bailey’s, Gordon’s and Captain Morgan’s in indistinguishable bottles, marked only by a health warning. Cigarette packets are pleasing merely as classics of economic design; the camel and pyramid on the front of a packet of ten Camels is one reason why they might constitute my cigarette packet for the year; the bad taste pink of a packet of cocktail cigarettes – and what a rainbow coloured pleasure they are – is one of the appealing things about it. As for Sweet Afton, distinguished by the head of the poet Tom Moore, the packet is the sole reason for buying it.
Already, trying to buy fags from a supermarket is enough to bring on a temper tantrum: you can’t see what they sell, and you can’t ask them to tell you what they sell. Now the prohibition on display seems likely to be extended to shops of all sizes. I still don’t know what the trade off is between the alleged cost of smoking in health terms – the Policy Exchange thinktank puts it at £14 billion – as against the amount generated from taxes on cigarettes, but I do know, because the Evening Standard reported it this week, that one in three cigarettes smoked in London is either contraband or counterfeit. And can you wonder.
But the issue goes beyond money: it’s whether a Coalition constituted of liberals, whose philosophy might by definition seem at odds with a bossy state, and Tories, who you might expect to treat grown ups as grown ups, has any business removing a tiny element of personal freedom in this fashion. If I want to buy a packet of cigarettes with a camel on the front, I should be able to, even if I’m now no longer allowed to smoke it in pretty well any public space.
For the fanatics, there’s no pleasing them. A ban on smoking in cars with children will just be an encouragement to lobby for the next reform, banning smoking in homes with children. Cheaper to implement than making tobacco illegal and a useful stick to beat the underclass with. And you know, some addicts would prioritise the fags over their children. They shouldn’t have to choose.Tags: cigarettes, Smoking, UK politics