Mark Leftly: Why the big cover-up just won't work when it comes to choking off smokers

Outlook I always wanted to smoke but couldn't inhale. At least, not without nearly coughing up my guts. Those teenage attempts to impress girls and peers alike ended up with me spluttering and them laughing. But there was no doubt that if I could master the art of puffing a ciggie, then I would at the very least look like an appealingly dishevelled private eye from film noir.

Maybe, just maybe, I could pull off the Sean Connery look from the baccarat scene in Dr No, a cigarette suavely dangling from his mouth as he eyed up Bond girl Sylvia Trench. Years later, as a journalist, I wondered whether I could pull off David Strathairn's sharp look in Good Night, and Good Luck, when he played the heavy-smoking news broadcaster Edward R. Morrow.

Yes, it's fair to say the image of smoking has long been a major factor in why people light up. However, I was not alone as a child in the 80s who would hide his mum's fags to try and stop a 20-a-day habit. Society's youngest were barraged with information as to just what awful illnesses cigarettes can cause and that has only intensified.

Much like Super Size Me's findings that eating fast food three times a day was bad for you, putting plain packaging over cancer stick brands is not telling us anything new about smoking. Yet reports suggest that the Government seems intent on pressing ahead with legislation that would replace colourful branded packets with a dull, generic cover.

This is not a defence of the tobacco industry – the likes of British American Tobacco and Imperial will find ways of maintaining their multi-billion revenues. Big tobacco's central argument is that this will make cigarettes easier to fake, and therefore grow the illegal smuggling trade that funds criminal gangs.

Cancer Research UK – which is, admittedly, a tiny bit biased – hasn't found any evidence to back up this argument. And the charity is right to point out that the illicit UK cigarette market was reduced from 21 per cent in 2000-01 to 9 per cent in 2010-11 as the Border Agency and HMRC tightened up their controls.

Those controls aren't going to be relaxed, not with a government so determined to crack down on an industry that causes more than 100,000 deaths a year and costs the UK nearly £14bn, according to another slightly conflicted group, Action on Smoking and Health. This is net of the £11.3bn that the Exchequer gains in punitive tax on fags, though surprisingly only £2.7bn is the cost to the NHS. Other costs include £507m a year of smoking-related fire damage in homes and £342m for cleaning up cigarette butts.

The tobacco industry's argument isn't, then, persuasive and the Government obviously has noble intentions with its crackdown on smoking. However, if an answer to a question is wrong then it is not enough to simply say "well, at least we've given an answer".

Despite a general decline, one in five people still smoke and making the packets a duller colour won't stop an addiction. Anyway, businesses are already selling cigarette case covers for the European market, with sharp designs featuring everything from flowers to, a more appropriate but nevertheless pretty funky, skull and crossbones.

In Australia, where plain packaging has already been introduced, such sleeves are used to cover up the generic packaging. These cover the only images accompanying the green packet: a child struggling to breathe because of passive smoking or a warning that fags can cause blindness.

The market seems to believe that generic packaging will hurt sales, hence Imperial and BAT investors sold off shares when the news broke yesterday morning. However, it's difficult to see how packaging does anything more than make cigarettes seem that little bit more alluring to the very youngsters that this law is surely meant to protect. Also, the reasoning behind other legislation was far better targeted: the smoking ban was put in place to stop passive smoking. That law was to ensure that smokers couldn't inflict illness on people who hadn't made the choice to buy fags, but were forced to breathe the fumes.

By contrast, this legislation has a touch of the 1984 about it, though the Orwellian Big Brother argument is probably overstated by internet warriors – notably those who have compared the legislation to a certain German political party that rose to prominence in the 1930s. And investors in big tobacco needn't worry that sales will be hit: this legislation either won't work, as the few put off smoking will be surely be offset by those who then find it even more attractive.

Better education has already worked over the years, though the rate of decline in smokers is admittedly frustratingly slow for campaigners. Always improving this message will work – though failure to overcome a gag reflex to inhaling smoke is the only sure prevention.

News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
tech
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits