Plain packs are a victory for the dim-witted and the joyless

Plain packs in Australia, the only country to implement the policy so far
Plain packs in Australia, the only country to implement the policy so far
Ian Dunt By

The success of the plain packs campaign marks an important stage in the eventual battle to criminalise tobacco. It is the moment the Conservative party finally capitulated to the joyless, unscientific nonsense of the public health lobby. There is now no resistance to this movement at the top of British politics, apart from among a few stubborn Tory backbenchers and the minority of Lib Dems who still remember what the word liberal actual means.

The Conservatives decided to force through this bill before the election to neutralise a potential Labour attack. After kicking the issue into the long grass in a variety of ways, the party has now cravenly and frantically capitulated, with a minimum of composure or good grace.

So let's be clear: there is no evidence plain packs work. Yes, there is a decline in smoking trends in Australia, the only country which has implemented the measure. But it is part of a long-term decline amid various other anti-smoking initiatives, including a massive hike in excise duty. There has been no demonstration that it works and yet we are pursuing it anyway. Whatever else, this is not being pursued because of evidence of public health benefits.

Everyone understands the consequences of cigarettes. If you smoke throughout your life there's a 50/50 chance they'll kill you. Anyone unaware of the health implications of smoking is so ignorant we should be more concerned about their ability to cross the road safely than the cancer they might get in 30 years' time.


The evidence for the effect of plain packs is unclear

Some people choose to smoke anyway. If you choose to prioritise short-term pleasure over long-term health that is your choice to make. It is a perfectly valid one, as it happens. Life can be enjoyed for its intensity, not just its duration. It is not the government's choice, it is not your fellow man's choice. It is not even your family's choice.

People love to try and construct arguments around NHS funds spent on smokers to justify the removal of their personal freedom. It’s nonsense. Firstly, smokers tend to die before they cost the state much money in later life - but after their working life, where they are usually net contributors.

Far more importantly, we do not use the NHS to dictate arguments about personal freedom, or else we had best be prepared to have government officials block us from entering McDonald's or going horse-riding. 

Cigarettes packets already have prominent warnings on them. There are various government initiatives to encourage people to stop smoking. The NHS does its best to help people quit. Vaping is turning people away from tobacco at a rate anti-smoking campaigners could only dream of achieving. These are all appropriate measures. They respect personal choice.

Vaping has turned thousands off tobacco

Plain packs suggest the consumer needs to be propagandised for the entirety of their contact with the product. They are the creation of a shadow world of quasi-legality, where smoking is not banned but made socially unacceptable and placed outside the sphere of accepted commercial operation.

The campaigner's eye is always partly on full criminalisation. As Labour's Luciana Berger said last night when asked if smoking will one day be banned: "We'll have to see".

Of course, it seems absurd to talk about people banning cigarettes. But no-one could seriously doubt that's the end point of campaigners' mission. First, smokers are forced out of public buildings. Then the product itself is made to look illicit and non-commercial. Within ten years the debate on a ban on tobacco will be mainstream. It will eventually be won by the anti-smoking lobby.

They will win because the rest of us gave up on the idea that people are entitled to make their own decisions, according to their own desires. That's why the debate over plain packs matters, whether you're a smoker, a non-smoker or someone who doesn't see what the fuss is about. They are chipping away at your autonomy.

The joyless have won another battle against personal choice. Every time they do so they reveal how little they respect the people they claim to care about.

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