Christopher Snowdon writes for Public Service Europe

Is the anti-smoking movement addicted to legislation? If so, is it possible to wean these people off silly laws and return them into the community? I ask the question because every year the crusaders fire up their formidable PR machine and every year their policies become more surreal. Cigarette prices sky high? Make a pack cost £100. Graphic health warnings did not work? Put the cigarettes behind shutters. Shutters fail to do the trick? Make all cigarette packs brown. Perhaps the whole enterprise is a Situationist prank designed to see if there is any policy too preposterous to be enshrined in law under the pretext of protecting kiddies.

It is easy to see why anti-smoking policies sail through parliament so regularly. They allow politicians to make a gesture about an unhealthy habit at little or no cost to themselves. The latest wheeze is plain packaging, a policy that has never been tried anywhere in the world, but which the crusaders nevertheless claim to have a mountain of evidence which proves it will work. The evidence they cite shows nothing of the sort. They merely ask people whether they think a conventional cigarette pack looks better than a mocked up plain pack, which is coloured ‘faecal brown’ and sports a large photo of a gangrenous foot. It is no great surprise that those surveyed usually prefer the normal pack, but it tells us nothing about whether fewer people would smoke as a result. If you give me a wine label and a felt tip, I will make it look less appealing, but I would never be so disingenuous as to claim that I can reduce underage drinking using the same tools.

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