Last month, the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee of the European Parliament approved a new Tobacco Products Directive, which includes a series of pointlessly illiberal measures to make both smoking and alternatives to smoking even harder. Among the policies are an EU-wide ban on menthol and other flavoured cigarettes. The legislation also calls for restrictions on how tobacco goods are sold, the size of packets you can have for roll-your-own tobacco, as well as requiring electronic cigarettes to be regulated in the same fashion as medicines. The bill will be voted on by the full parliament in the autumn.
There are many reasons why we should all - smokers and non-smokers alike - be appalled and concerned at such an authoritarian measure.
Just over a year ago, rules came into force in England to hide cigarettes behind counters. Standardising cigarette packs (‘plain packaging’) was being loudly discussed as the next move against smokers, following Australia’s decision to implement such a policy. With such measures, as well as the continually rising taxation imposed on tobacco, it is easy to see why smokers’ rights campaigners have frequently argued that the aim of puritan politicians and public-health campaigners is to ban smoking altogether: prohibition.
The new directive makes this ambition crystal clear. An entire category of cigarettes is to be outlawed. What is next to be banned? King-size cigarettes? Smooth cigarettes? While the plan to introduce plain packs in the UK has been shelved for now, some new law or regulation restricting smoking - from Westminster or Brussels - seems to have become an annual event.
What is particularly shocking about this legislation is just how offensive and patronising it is. Indeed, lawmakers in Brussels targeted, among other things, menthol and other flavoured cigarettes because supposed ‘experts’ believe that such cigarettes hold a unique appeal for children. Come again? Are these the very same children who are not able to see cigarettes behind shop counters? The same children who are not able to buy any form of cigarettes until they are over the age of 18? The generation of children, moreover, who have never seen tobacco advertised, anywhere, ever? The same children, who are told constantly as they grow up that smoking is lethal? Set against these barriers to taking up the habit, making cigarettes mildly minty is inconsequential.