Government plans to curb smoking are not only wasteful but unworkable

I am quite a keen smoker who has always prized myself on being rather good at it

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The Independent Online

This week has seen another attempt by the government to force cigarettes into plain packages. We’ve already had packets covered in pictures of diseased lungs and health warnings warning us that smoking might not be the healthiest thing in the world.

On this occasion the government has announced an independent review of cigarette packaging in England to discourage younger smokers. Already they have reneged on their promise of a minimum price for alcohol and are taking a beating from the “health campaigners” and assorted health fascists.

In my mind, plain packaging will open the flood gates for counterfeit cigarettes to submerge the market bringing with it three major problems. The first is that these cigarettes are probably much more toxic than their legal counterparts making them much more dangerous and unhealthy. In Australia a counterfeit brand called “Manchester” has seen its market share treble since plain packaging was introduced – and there has been no reduction in smoking prevalence overall.

Secondly, counterfeit cigarettes are one way in which terrorist groups including those involved in killing and maiming British troops earn money for their campaigns of terror. And thirdly, given the state of our public finances and our ever soaring public debt, it will mean less money for the Treasury which I would like to think they would spend wisely. Even Public Health Minister Jane Ellison has been forced to admit that plain packaging will make it easier for cheap, counterfeit products to flood the market.

But there’s a second strand to this anti-smoking legislation which makes me take a step back and question whether the politicians are really concerned about our health (something, incidentally, I think adults should be able to decide for themselves) or for their political positions.It is when the plans for anti-smoking campaigns sink to the levels of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive that I am once again reminded about how easy it is for politicians and political establishments to become cozy with big businesses.

This can be seen clearly with this latest piece of proposed legislation which will limit people’s access to e-cigarettes. Of course the EU won’t come straight out and say that it wants to “ban” e-cigarettes – merely turn them into pharmaceutical products. This means they will only be available in chemists, instead of over the counter where people go to if they will buy real cigarettes. We already know from government reports about impulse buying at counters. That’s why supermarkets are supposed to remove all chocolate and sweets from around the queuing area and replace them with carrots or Brussels sprouts and all manner of items children are never going to reach for, unless it’s to bash a sibling over the head with.

By designating e-cigarettes pharmaceutical products they are raising barriers to commercial entry by imposing the heavy approval costs required of medicines which means that only very large, rich companies can enter the marketplace.  I’ve no doubt that this is the wish of the pharmaceutical companies themselves who flood the Brussels and Strasbourg parliaments, Commission offices and local watering holes with lobbyists.

As I’m sure many people realise, I am quite a keen smoker. I’ve always prized myself on being rather good at it. But when a couple of old friends who have been smoking several packets a day for decades tell me that they haven’t touched a cigarette in a month because they’ve been using these new e-cigarette products it made even me want to try them out.

And I tell you what; they work much better than any of the stop-smoking products which have been on the market for years. Products made, of course, by these pharmaceutical companies who have such a vested interest in the Tobacco Products Directive and in making e-cigarettes harder to get hold of. With packets of nicotine gum costing £14 a go, a heavy smoker can spend more on nicotine products than they ever did on actual cigarettes!

Nicotine itself is not a particularly harmful substance. The other substances which go into cigarettes are the harmful ones which cause health problems. Nicotine is addictive: that’s what smokers are after. That’s what they crave and chewing foul-tasting gum and standing outside in the cold won’t stop that.

The amount of money spent trying to stop people smoking is massive. And yet, when the market provides an alternative to tobacco the EU seems eager to legislate against it. They have no real understanding of business, of real people; only an overwhelming urge to interfere regardless of the consequences.

If government really cared about stopping us smoking – and personally I don’t see why it’s any of their business, what I as a tax-paying adult do with my own time and money – they would stop this Directive, they would ensure e-cigarettes could be accessed as a genuine way to help smokers kick the habit and they would admit that plain packaging will do nothing to help their cause, but stop the opposition from saying they ducked out of promises. Let the figures do the talking, not lobbyists and companies with vested interests in keeping us addicts.

With all the money which has been spent on stopping people from smoking: all the endless questionnaires you must fill in when trying to get an appointment to see your GP how about we try and open up this argument and instead of talking about it, tell your MPs and MEPs exactly what you think. There are so many arguments why the laws and reviews which are being passed go against the stated aims that we need to make them sit up and listen.