Don’t insult smokers' intelligence by suggesting that they will address their addiction because of a belated realisation that actually they’re not too fond of dark green
Sitting outside one of my favourite local bars earlier in the summer enjoying a drink and a cigarette, I was approached by a rather geeky looking man clutching a clipboard and pen. I usually dislike being disturbed in such situations, and was about to tell him (politely of course) to go elsewhere.
He quickly got my attention, however, explaining that he was collecting signatures for a petition against the government’s plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging; instinctively, I signed. Even though I smoke – quite a bit – and enjoy it – quite a lot – I hadn’t really given the plain packaging campaign much thought at that point, but now the public consultation has closed and we await the result, it’s time to reflect on just how absurd this proposal is.
The government wants to replace branded cigarette packaging with plain olive green packets, on which will feature just the name of the brand and the obligatory message telling you that smoking will ruin your virility, sanity, friendships etc. Olive green, according to ‘research’, is apparently the colour that smokers dislike the most.
So with this simple redesign, the government hopes that dedicated smokers like myself will cut down or maybe give up their consumption, and youngsters tempted to give it a go will recoil horrified from the murky green packets and buy a chocolate bar instead (though those are also very bad for you of course. How long before they’re in plain grey packets, one wonders).
Leaving aside the question of the government’s true motives – Andrew Lansley and Deborah Arnott, chief executive of campaign group Ash, seem more obsessed with bringing down the multi-billion pound tobacco industry than the health of the nation – this proposal is, frankly, laughable.
There is only speculative evidence that plain packaging will reduce smoking and many lobbying groups are questioning the legality of their introduction. Tobacco giants are furious that plain packaging will be mandatory in Australia from the end of the year (so far the only country to try it) arguing that they allow the government to acquire their property – logos, images – without compensation.
There are other well rehearsed arguments why the green packets will not reduce smoking, and why they might actually be a bad thing. But none of these quite get to the heart of the matter. Actually, this proposal is yet another tedious episode in the government’s war on people’s freedom to smoke, even if it is bad for them.
First there was the smoking ban, forcing smokers onto the cold pavements outside bars and restaurants to enjoy a cigarette. I know I speak for many when I say this has not affected my consumption levels a bit. Secondly, earlier this year, supermarkets were banned from displaying their cigarette cabinets, instead having to hide the lot behind plain white doors. This is inconvenient and annoying, as you have to ask if they have your brand, then ask what else they have if they don’t, etc, but it has not made me, or anyone else I know, cut down. And all the impressionable youngsters who might be enticed by the colourful display can simply go to the nearest corner shop, where no such ban exists.
If the government really wants to reduce smoking levels, it should stop trying to make buying them slightly inconvenient or changing the colour of cigarette packets and instead take a leaf out of Germany’s book. There, smoking levels among the young have dropped from 27 per cent to just 11 per cent over the last ten years. No, the government have not been hiding cigarettes behind the bread in supermarkets or making the packages look horrible: they have worked hard on public education campaigns about the risks of smoking.
The current suggestion by our government is both patronising and insulting. Give people the freedom to smoke if they want, and don’t make it pointlessly difficult for them to indulge their habit, but do make them properly aware of the risks and leave it to them to decide whether or not to give up. Don’t insult their intelligence by suggesting that they will address their addiction because of a belated realisation that actually they’re not too fond of dark green.
As I told the campaigner outside my local bar, I do hope this misguided legislation is not passed. In the meantime, though, my advice to smokers is this: save the empty packets of your favourite brands. Because if those foul green packets are introduced, you’re going to need them.