Smoking, once the mainstay of social and business occasions, is now an abhorrent act; one of defiance in the face of accepted norms. The very idea of someone lighting up their cigarette next to a non-smoker generates a great deal of stigma and distaste, but why should non-smokers find tobacco so disdainful?
Why should smoking be so singular in its ability to attract criticism? The health risks are well known and, thanks to a sustained campaign over the decades, emblazoned upon the cigarettes themselves. There can be no doubt that smoking is an act of an individual choosing to engage in the behaviour regardless of risk. Why the need for others, outside of this individual act, to be so angered by their choices?
I recently attended a 2 course dinner at the Clayton Hotel. Afterwards myself and an MP, who shall remain nameless, were having a smoke outside (in the designated smoking area, so segregated has this act become). I asked the question “how many MPs smoke?” to which he replied “not many”. His response, though muted, hid a multitude of political and legislative action that has driven down these numbers. Prices have been inflated by a rise in tobacco duties and there is an ever-decreasing area in which one can engage in the habit. Packaging must soon be unbranded, except for the numerous and increasingly ghastly health warnings. Flavoured cigarettes are now a thing of the past (you may partake of smoking if you must, but Heaven forfend you should enjoy it).
Cost may act as a fairly effective deterrent, but mainly to those on lower incomes with less disposable income. A pack of Malboro Gold now costs £9.50, of which 88% represents tax and duties. This squeezes from smokers around £12bn every year (far in excess of the amount that smoking-related illnesses cost the NHS). There are suggestions that legislation may be tabled to ban smoking in certain outdoor areas; further subjecting those who are willing and able to make a choice to a multitude of unnecessary restrictions.
In the Spring Budget, the Government announced a further 35p increase on Tobacco duty. The motives for such an increase are unclear. Like the sugar tax, placing a greater financial burden on an action in order to deter it clearly does not prevent that action taking place. Instead it simply generates a greater amount for the Government at the expense of rational, independent actors. Successive Governments have made increasing, profitable gains from taxing a market that they know will continue on regardless. It is the prime example of a tax that will hit the poorest hardest.
Free will should not be placed exclusively in the hands of those who are most able to afford the financial penalties.
William is the Campaigns Officer for Conservatives for Liberty Northern Ireland
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty