|Title||Australia's new plain packaging law for cigarettes|
|About me||Mark Littlewood is Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs
The Australians may just have got Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, off the hook. They have just become the first country in the supposedly 'free world' to insist on the plain packaging of tobacco products.
Well, the packaging won't really be plain. Printed on a muddy, murky green background will be government health warnings along with ghoulish images of diseased body parts and the terminally ill taking up three quarters of the available space Cigarettes Online. What will not be on the pack will be any colourful images from the tobacco companies, merely the name of the particular brand in very small print.
The grim green background shade has been especially selected as it is the colour which consumers apparently find the most unappealing. It was originally described as 'olive green' by Aussie politicians until those involved in the business of producing and selling olives vociferously complained.
This is the latest ludicrous move in the unending, ceaseless, bullying war against those who choose to produce and consume tobacco. Apparently, the shiny gold trimming on certain packets of cigarettes is just so alluring and seductive that those who would otherwise abstain from smoking just cannot help themselves buying packs of the dreaded weed. When their policies fail to achieve their goals, they just shrug their shoulders and move on to the next stage in the de-normalisation of adults who make lifestyle choices they disapprove of.
When put in a corner, they fall back on the feeble scientific evidence around second hand smoke and the need to "save the children". Even the more hysterical studies into passive smoking suggest that the risks to non-smokers are utterly trivial compared to other everyday exposures which we rarely think twice about - for example, having an open log fire in your living room, regularly barbecuing meat or practising carpentry should concern you far more than whether someone is puffing away on a Marlboro in your general vicinity. To listen to the fanatics from groups such as ASH, you would think that wafting cigarette smoke is the rough equivalent of handling weapons grade plutonium.
And as far as children are concerned, one wonders whether the fanatical health lobbyists have any sense at all of how kids think. Young boys, in particular, have a fascination with the horrific and the ghastly. We can surely expect packaging with pictures of diseased lungs and colossal cancer growths to have far more kudos in the playground than a simple, elegantly designed Silk Cut or Camel packet Tobacco Shop.
But what should really frighten us about the Australian decision is not that it will fail Newport Cigarettes. Few of these harebrained initiatives ever succeed - even the blanket smoking ban in England failed to make any discernible impact on reducing tobacco consumption. No, the real worry is what this exposes about the way our lords and masters think about us.
If cigarette packaging needs to be commandeered by the government, why not also place control of confectionary branding, beer bottles and fast food restaurants in the hands of the health lobby? Their essential argument is that we should not be allowed to decide for ourselves in a glorious technicolour world so they are going to do their damndest to render it monochrome Newport Cigarettes.
But how does any of this help Andrew Lansley at the Department of Health? Well, he is a Cabinet minister in a government which claims to support deregulation Wholesale Cigarettes.
Yet, he has already pressed ahead with a ban on the display of cigarettes firstly in supermarkets and then to be followed by newsagents. The lobbyists from health groups and the pharmaceutical industry which often surround him seem to come up with a new initiative virtually every week (the last mad idea from the BMA was to get our police force to focus on stopping people smoking in their cars, even if they are alone or sharing a lift with other consenting adults).
Fortunately, the Health Secretary does not need to marshal a whole series of arguments to rebut the case for plain packaging of tobacco (which would, in any event, be quite hard to do - as it is difficult to rebut a case based on no credible evidence whatsoever). He can cancel his promised consultation on the subject (originally anticipated to be launched in the next few weeks), thereby saving everybody a lot of time and effort. He can then sit back and wait for a couple of years and see what independent evidence suggests the impact to be in Australia, if the legal challenge from tobacco companies fails to reverse this intrusion into free expression.
So, let's see what Mr Lansley does. If he presses ahead regardless, it will be a sure sign that this government is committed to more red tape, regulation and nanny state tactics Buy Cigarettes Online, not less.
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