Plain packaging: plain wrong

Plain packaging of cigarettes has to be the worst idea since Jedward attempted to sing.  With Public Health Minister Jane Ellison’s announcement that plain packaging could be put into force by 2015, the nanny state is back, under a Conservative-led government no less.

Plain packaging is another attempt by members of the militant anti-smoking lobby to treat smokers as if they are the pariahs of society, whose products should not be left to the whims of the market, but priced out of their hands and hidden in ugly packets.

In doing so they are treating smokers as socially abnormal. As someone who believes in individual freedom and an individual’s right to smoke, including making decisions that could harm their health without interference from the state, I find this policy abhorrent. I assume, as firm believers in the rights of the individual, most Conservatives will agree with me and that’s why I call on the Government to think again on plain packaging.

Branding is an important part of the consumer choice that is the lifeblood of the free market. After all, it is different brands of products that create competition, leading to more consumer choice.  That is as relevant in the cigarette market, as in any market.

Smokers should have as much choice as individuals to choose their brand free from government restriction, as any other person.  Plain packaging by contrast would remove brands, restrict consumer choice and run roughshod over the free market, by trying to denormalise a legal product.

Even if I didn’t have ideological problems with plain packaging, it’s clear that it has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.  The claim in support of plain packaging is that it will make smoking less attractive to young children and young adults – yet the evidence to back this up is as thin as a size zero model. Indeed, former health secretaries Alan Johnson and Andy Burnham, hardly members of the smokers’ union, have said there is no proof that plain packaging reduces the number of children smoking.

Plain packaging is also a boon to criminal masterminds in this country, who will welcome the chance to make more counterfeit cigarette packs than ever. Ruth Orchard, the Director of the Anti-Counterfeit group summed this up well saying: “Plain packaging will be welcomed by counterfeiters. It will make their job much simpler and make it harder for consumers to spot fakes.”

Those involved in the counterfeit cigarette industry will have no qualms about using the money they get from this for more dangerous criminal activities, as well as mixing tobacco with dangerous substances that could harm smokers.  It is another example of the unintended consequences of attempted social engineering by the Government, where the attempted restriction of the product harms individual freedom, whilst benefiting criminals.

In summary, plain packaging is an authoritarian idea that tramples over individual freedom based on little evidence, whilst benefiting criminals. Its another attempt to regulate individuals lives and I believe people who believe in freedom should continue shouting this message from the rooftops until the Coalition Government abandons this terrible policy.