As a life-long smoker, I fully recognise what a truly unhealthy habit it is and certainly wouldn't recommend it to my worst enemy, let alone to someone that I actually cared about. But then again, I'm not sure that anyone with a modicum of commonsense would actually start smoking, purely on the recommendation of somebody else, or indeed because they happened to like the pretty colours of the various cigarette brand packets, which seems to be the basic tenet of the argument being put forward by the various health lobbyists who have the British parliament's "ear" at present.
Never having been a huge fan of this wholly unrepresentative chamber, which simply serves to promote the narrow ideological interests of the three main parties, along with the various lobbyists, focus groups and financial backers who support them, today's vote on the issue of plain cigarette packaging is simply the latest measure, which illustrates the utter contempt our elected representatives have for the people of this country. Not only will the new changes to the rules governing cigarette packaging be devoid of any parliamentary discussion, but they're also being introduced on the most questionable levels of evidence, much of which will never be heard by the British public, who should after all be the final arbiters of such matters.
If the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat parties were so certain of the evidence pertaining to cigarette packaging, that young people were attracted to and encouraged by bright colours to take up smoking, then why hasn't that policy formed one of their manifesto promises, rather than underhandedly using parliamentary procedure to sneak the measures into law? Could it be that there is no conclusive evidence that potential smokers are being encouraged to take up the habit because of the attractive and colourful packaging? Might it be that they don't want people to know that the only people who will be celebrating these new rules will be the smugglers and counterfeiters who will doubtless benefit from the changes? Do they not realise that the grotty and unpleasant images will count for nothing, if new and existing smokers simply buy themselves a tobacco tin, or a cigarette case? Are they trying to hide the fact that an average smokers contributes in excess of £40 per week in additional taxes to the UK Exchequer, some or all of which could be lost to the UK's tax authorities; and handed instead to criminal gangs, or foreign manufacturers?
Of course, if you choose to believe the anti-smoking propaganda in the media, then you won't have heard that Australia's plain cigarette packaging campaign has been an absolute disaster from the outset. You also won't have heard or read that cigarette smuggling has increased, that counterfeiting has increased, or that entire towns and villages in China have been given over to producing traditionally branded cigarettes especially for the Australian market? As with most products, consumers can choose to vote with their wallets; and while tens of millions of Australian dollars are going out of the country to the criminal gangs and cigarette makers in China, the Australian Health Service is still having to pick up the financial tab for the tens of thousands of smokers who will suffer from the effects of their daily habit.
Not content with having directly caused the closure of 10,000 public houses since the smoking ban was first introduced in 2007, along with the tens of thousands of bar jobs associated with them, the demonisation of the nation's smokers continues apace. Virtually every enclosed commercial space; and if some had their way, even publicly owned open ground, would be turned into no-go areas for those who choose to waste their own money and risk their own personal health. But even these draconian measures aren't enough for the fervent anti-smoking activists, who would have politicians believe that we're not mature enough, or indeed intelligent enough, to make an informed decision about our own health and that we need them to decide for us what we put into our bodies, regardless of how we feel about it. Isn't it a pity though that they're not so zealous when it comes to the millions of Britons who regularly poison their bodies each week through the consumption of alcohol, or the 4000 people a year who end up dying from cirrhosis of the liver. Where are the graphic images to deter them, or the plain packaged beer bottles? Where is the campaign that advocates graphic warning images be put on hamburgers, pizzas or any of the other junk food that we Britons consume by the ton? There are more people consuming crap food in the UK than there are smokers, so where are the parliamentary statutory instruments to regulate them, or indeed the taxes to discourage people from eating too many McDonalds, Burger Kings, etc?
According to official figures some 15,000 people a year die from alcohol related diseases, whilst 10% of the annual death rate in the UK is thought to be attributable to obesity, which equates to around 50,000 deaths per year, with obesity costing the NHS some £2.5 billion per year. So, let's ask the question again. Where are the graphic images, the higher taxes, the public information films, the advertising bans, the social stigmatisation of those who drink too much, eat too much, as it is for those who choose to, or have the individual temerity to smoke cigarettes in public?
That isn't to say that smoking isn't dangerous and harmful, it is. It's a crap habit that no-one in their right mind would willingly adopt and kudos to those millions of smokers who have managed to successfully kick the habit and are leading far healthier lives as a result of it. However, in my forty years of smoking I have yet to meet a single person who took up the habit principally because they were attracted by the bright and engaging packaging that the fags were actually wrapped in and for anyone to suggest that that might be the reason why a youngster starts smoking is absolutely risible. It not only insults people's intelligence, but also overlooks the most common reasons why kids do start to smoke in the first place, their home environment and peer pressure. Most reliable studies tend to suggest that a child brought up by a smoker, or who is the younger sibling of a smoker, is far more likely to become a smoker themselves. Equally, young teens who are surrounded by smokers (their immediate peers) are far more likely to try smoking themselves, even if they don't go on to become regular smokers in their later lives. The last thing that would influence their decision though would be the actual packaging, as one would imagine that accessibility and affordability are far more important factors for any youngster that wants to adopt the habit, not the F*CKING colour of the pack, as has been suggested by some, as yet unknown "expert".
Unfortunately, the fact that our know nothing politicians are so keen to grasp this latest theory, without any sort of credible evidence, or indeed meaningful and informed debate in the country at large, will simply ensure that it will almost certainly result in very little change in the numbers of youngsters taking up the habit. Instead, all it will do will be to increase the amount of illegal tobacco products being brought into the country for sale on the black market, reduce the amount of revenue being delivered to the national exchequer, cause other taxes to rise in order to make up the resulting fiscal shortfall and drive thousands of newsagents and small corner shops out of business entirely. Not bad for a policy that was supposed to offer a positive outcome.
Even though I smoke myself, I recognise the need to buy legally obtainable tobacco, if only to put something back into the NHS by way of the 77% tax that I pay on every pack I purchase. However, given that the mainstream political parties seem bound and determined to not only demonise me for being a smoker, but now want to purposefully offend and annoy me by imposing a draconian measure that is not only unnecessary but also rather pointless, then I have to question why I should even bother trying to do the right thing as far as my tobacco purchases are concerned. I may as well just give the criminals and smugglers my money instead and f*ck the idea of trying to do the right thing as far as the country's concerned.
But then, isn't that what happens when you get a pitiful parliament pandering to the wishes of their resident lobbyists, focus groups and financial supporters, they simply end up making themselves even more irrelevant to the lives of ordinary people, especially those of us who are intelligent enough to work out just what's good for us, what's not; and just where useless politicians fall into that personal calculation.