I’m not a big fan of the coalition government, but I am fully behind the proposals it unveiled last week to force cigarettes to be sold in plain, unbranded packaging. I also think pursuing the previous administration’s intention to ban the display of cigarettes in shops is absolutely the right thing to do.
Just to further irritate those of you who are already considering turning the page in disgust, or clicking off the online version of this column, I can confirm that I am indeed a reformed smoker. I puffed away for about 12 years in my youth and at my peak, if I can call it that, I got through more than 20 a day. The cigarette brand I always had a pack of in easy reach was Marlboro Light. Why? Because it was the brand most of my friends smoked. This paints you a picture of how susceptible I was to peer pressure in my teens.This is key.
Varying estimates put the number of teenagers taking up smoking in the UK every year at about 200,000. Tomorrow’s smokers, namely teenagers and children, is the audience that these moves are aimed at.
The people whose behaviour the government is trying to influence are those who have not yet tried their first cigg
According to YouGov, about one-fifth of adults in the UK currently smoke. The same organisation’s statistics show that smoking is more prevalent among those from a lower social class, a more deprived background and people who left school at 16 as opposed to those who went on to higher education. As tragic as such facts may be, people who already smoke are not the target of the legislation. The people whose behaviour the government is trying to influence are those who have not yet tried their first ciggie.
And if you think packaging doesn’t matter, think again. You can take your pick from the number of studies conducted in the UK and elsewhere showing the huge numbers of smokers who wrongly think cigarettes with lighter coloured packaging or whose designs display words like “light” and “mild” are less likely to induce cancer than their stronger sister brands.
I’ve heard all the arguments against such legislation. It’s the triumph of the nanny state over freedom of choice; removing branding means that quality of the product (let’s remind ourselves that we’re talking about the quality of a product that kills its users) will take a tumble; the counterfeit cigarettes market will thrive; banning packaging and display units will have a disproportional effect on convenience stores and newsagents.
These arguments may have some truth, but it doesn’t stop every one of them being stupid. As stupid as a newspaper column I read this morning that claimed: “Cigarettes may be bad for our health but they are good for the economy”.
Forget the arguments about secondary smoke, about whether the jobs we would risk would be worth it to save the £2.7bn that smoking costs the NHS annually. The product kills 4 million adults worldwide every year. Why is it allowed to be sold?
Mark Choueke, editor