Plain packs: an affront to liberty

Plain packs for cigarettes will be introduced in the UK over the next year. After a legal challenge to the government plan was struck down last week, our personal liberty will once again be undermined. Under the new regulations, all cigarette packets will be olive-green, stripped of any logos or branding, and covered in grotesque photos and warnings. Menthols and 10 packs will get the chop from 2020.

Plain packs might not seem like a big deal. After all, you’ll still be able to get your nicotine fix. But this is yet another example of the nanny state undermining personal responsibility, and holding us, the public, in contempt. Following the banning of cigarette advertising, and then the banning of displays in shops, the government is treating us like idiots who are easily influenced by branding and packaging.

There’s also zero evidence that we, the plebs, will quit smoking as a result. The tax on cigarettes already accounts for around 75 per cent of the retail price. And yet people still continue to smoke. While smoking rates have declined over time, due to greater knowledge of the health risks, there’s no evidence that nanny-state finger-wagging has had any effect whatsoever.

Unsurprisingly, many of the new restrictions stem from that bastion of illiberalism, the European Union. This legislation incorporates the new revisions to the EU Tobacco Products Directive. Like the UK’s homegrown public-health lobby, unelected Eurocrats believe they know better than us. The EU is even clamping down on the healthy alternative to smoking, e-cigarettes. The new directive bans e-cig liquid in bottles larger than 10ml and storage tanks larger than 2ml. There is also talk of a ban on online advertising for e-cigs.

None of this is really about reducing smoking rates. If it was, the government wouldn’t be introducing such futile measures and clamping down on viable, healthy alternatives. No, this is about the burning desire of bureaucrats, in Whitehall and Brussels, to impose their beliefs on everyone else. This is illiberalism posing as progressive politics. It’s time we told these busybodies where to go.

Ben Kew is a writer and student.

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