Last week, the Coalition Government made a decision that will allow thousands of unnecessary deaths to take place. It made that decision – after being leant on by a small group of multi-billion pound businesses which control the industry – that provides the British public with one of the few legal recreational drugs; and one that is also the most deadly. This is just a taster of the blistering criticism that the Coalition has endured after delaying its decision on the introduction of standardised cigarette packaging. The move is seen as a U-turn by the Department for Health as it has been accompanied by a marked change in tone by ministers, from being cautious advocates of the policy to displaying clear scepticism.
It is alleged that companies like Japan Tobacco International, which ran a lavish anti-standardisation advertising campaign last year, have had a number of meetings with figures as senior as the Prime Minister on the issue. The influence of lobbyists is well known, but though it is feasible that a government buckled in the face of pressure from a business (something that all parties are guilty of), I think that there is another reason. It has four letters, and it has been covered endlessly in the media this year: UKIP. Put simply, anti-smoking policies are unpopular with the right wing which has been abandoning the Conservative Party in its droves.
I wouldn’t dispute that New Labour’s ‘nanny-statism’, so hated by the Daily Telegraph, was a flawed mentality. However, the idea that we should strive to ensure that each generation enjoys better health than the previous one, is part of a basic human instinct. We should be working to discourage young people from smoking, overeating or ‘overdieting’. I’d go as far as to endorse proposals that Tasmania’s state legislature is considering: banning anybody born after 2000 from purchasing cigarettes at all. In that way we can phase out the tobacco industry and all its human costs without the impracticalities of forcing established smokers to break their habit.
Whether such a move is compatible with the move towards drug liberalisation that is taking place throughout the developed world is an open question. It could be argued that such a move would create a black market, but this is argued with every rise in tobacco duty, move towards standardised packaging or new sales regulation that comes into effect. All I would conclude is that a government of the people would dare to be bold. Unfortunately, we are being let down by this Coalition, which puts profit before people.
By Jack H. G. Darrant
Jack normally blogs at: www.ThePoliticalIdealist.com
Jack can be found on twitter: @JackDarrant