Sunday, 6 September 2015

Cigarette & tobacco restrictions

The objective of further curbs on the display and marketing of tobacco products remains on the government's agenda. This is the latest stage in a campaign to control tobacco which began in 1965 with the banning of cigarette adverts on TV. Questions have been raised as to whether the measures which have been taken cumulatively since then constitute an attack on individual freedom, and whether the final objective is the criminalisation of tobacco users.

Firstly, tobacco is clearly an addictive drug, and the inhalation of cigarette smoke day in day out by individuals shows a contempt for their own bodies, which the widespread and traditional practice of this deleterious activity does not nullify. Smoking also affects other people if they have to inhale recycled cigarette smoke, although the dangers from passive smoking have probably been greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless, smoking is an activity which goes back many centuries and has become part of our culture. Any attempt by the authorities to interfere with this freedom needs to be carefully thought through.

Many people justly complain that society is far too over regulated these days. The period when the advertising, sale and use of cigarettes was accepted as completely normal, is looked back to nostalgically by many as a more innocent and easy going age to which they would like to return. Although this is a tempting viewpoint it is no longer possible. Most people today would find it completely unacceptable to have to work or travel in an environment where smokers are present. Although of fairly recent origin, and at the time very controversial, the same principles must apply to smoking in pubs. In these instances the right of the public not to be affected by tobacco smoke must override the assertion by some smokers that they should be able to smoke wherever they please.

Control over the sale, display and marketing of tobacco is however another matter. Since this is a perfectly legal product it could be argued that there should be no restrictions. Governments of all persuasions have been keen to see a reduction in the number of people who smoke, but the question that must be asked is whether this should really be any of their business. The easiest way of curbing consumption is by raising tobacco duty, but as tobacco is an addictive substance, this measure disproportionately impacts on the poor and it also encourages smuggling. It is however a very effective way of raising tax, thereby allowing other taxes to be kept lower than they would otherwise be. The protection of children is given as a reason to curb advertising but this is a complete red herring since children can see adults smoking all the time.

The government's recent decision to conceal tobacco products at the point of sale, and the proposal for plain packaging, are clearly steps too far down the road to an over regulated society. All restriction on cigarette advertising should be lifted as in a free society people should be allowed to make up their own mind on what they can legally purchase. Restrictions on tobacco are the thin edge of the wedge since there are now calls to impose restriction on the sale and marketing of alcohol and even of 'unhealthy' foods.

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