Terence Blacker: Plain packets won't stop me smoking

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The Independent Online

It can be the devil's own job buying a packet of cigars these days and an additional obstacle may soon be in place. This week an Australian court confirmed a law that will require all tobacco products to be sold in plain green packets, decorated only by health warnings and pictures of tumours.

Few people have been surprised. We live in a world of goodies and baddies and smoking is top of the league of perceived badness, well ahead of other unhealthy forms of human pleasure.

Announcing Australia's proud stand against it, Attorney General Nicola Roxon argued that governments should be "allowed to take public health measures to protect their community". Those words sound innocent enough, but if politicians really believe it is their responsibility actively to legislate against citizens harming themselves, then the implications are significant. Wines and spirits, which cause far more collateral damage, should immediately be sold under plain labels, with photographs revealing the results of alcoholism, car crashes and violence.

This week's initiative by the Australians is also unlikely to work. Tobacco will be cheaper, with a fortune saved on marketing. Those olive-green packets may even add a certain mystique. At a time when people love nothing better than smugly to disapprove of others less virtuous, lighting up has become a bold expression of individuality. The moment Bradley Wiggins was photographed puffing on a roll-up, he won my vote for this year's particularly tricky BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Being what doctors describe as a "trivial smoker", I have no particular worry if what I smoke is sold under plain wrappers. All the same, when one form of unhealthy human indulgence is de-branded by nannyish politicians while others, which are potentially more harmful, remain untouched, it makes neither moral nor logical sense.