current affairs

Plain packaging: A nanny state or worthwhile?

Following an independent review in November 2013 of the effect of unbranded cigarette packaging there are now plans to follow through on this in England to discourage people taking up smoking. 

Following an independent review in November 2013 of the effect of unbranded cigarette packaging there are now plans to follow through on this in England to discourage people taking up smoking. The review by paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler, found that unbranded packaging with graphic pictures acting as health warnings would cause a reduction in smoking, particularly underage smokers.

The plans to put this into action were explained by Jane Ellison, the public health minister in the House of Commons.

Currently, Australia is the only nation in the world that has plain packaging and it has proven incredibly controversial with tobacco companies fighting the idea. However, there are many who argue that so long as it betters the health of the nation then it should be given a chance. It is most definitely not a clear cut issue and there will be colossal implications when England follows through and there are already similar plans for Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand to follow suit.

Dark days for tobacco companies

Tobacco companies have been fighting hard to avoid the plan being put into action for obvious reasons. However, they make several points which cast doubt onto whether this is as good an idea as it seems. Companies claim that evidence gathered from Australia does not conclusively indicate a decrease in smoking rates, and even if it did so, the law in Australia has only been in force for just over a year meaning that an irrefutable conclusions cannot be drawn.

There were also claims in Australia being pursued which asserted that the law infringed on intellectual property rights by banning brands and trademarks. Furthermore, companies claim that evidence can be found which points towards an increase in illegal trade of black-market tobacco and that Australia has failed in its public health targets.

Whilst a fight from tobacco companies was always expected, there have been concerns raised from others (albeit mainly Tory backbenchers) about this being the start of a slippery slope leading to a “nanny state.”There are bans on advertising smoking and in recent years have been many laws restricting where people can smoke.

There are also alternatives to discourage taking up smoking (particularly in terms of education) which serve the same purpose and do not, in the words of Paul Nuttall (UKIP deputy leader), “auction off the freedom and liberty of the British people.”He raises the very significant question of where the line should be drawn when looking at the power and duty of State and where liberty and autonomy begins.

Will it save the next generation?

The number of people who take up smoking, particularly those between 11 and 16 years is extraordinarily worrying. According to Jane Ellison it is “about 200,000 children aged between 11 every year – about 600 a day.”

Therefore, it seems that the government should be inclined to intervene due to the health benefits that many will reap. Surely reducing tobacco related illness cannot be seen as an attempt by the government to further political aims or creep towards a “nanny state.”

The British Medical Association has made it clear they fully support the idea and that there should be no delay in turning the statement into a reality.

Politicians argue that a consultation on plain packaging was held in 2012 and that enough time has passed since then, meaning no more consultations are necessary-simply action is required. The majority of medical experts agree on the public health benefits and the number of lives that could be saved speaks volumes.

Sogood move?

It remains a difficult question, splitting the public and MPs with no easy answer available. Personally, the view that this could lead to a “nanny state” is far-fetched to me, it seems unlikely and the very real and positive impact that it could have on smokers, especially young and underage smokers, outweighs the arguments of the tobacco companies in my eyes.

However, the concerns are understandable and I am sure it will remain a contentious issue, although I do think once implemented in England and followed by other nations there is a chance it will become more normalised and perhaps less hotly disputed. 

What do you think? Is plain packaging a good idea? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: Oxfordian Kissuth / Wikimedia Commons