What form do you reckon the government’s consultation on cigarette packaging is going to take? Given that health minister Jane Ellison has said that the government’s intention is clear and the consultation short, I rather think it’s going to be like the gay marriage consultation – which ignored half a million objections to the thing in principle, and just focused on asking how to implement a decision already made. So this business of seeking out the views of ‘stakeholders’ is, I rather think, entirely cosmetic.
I don’t know whether you could call me a stakeholder because I’m not exactly a smoker – I’ve never got the hang of inhaling – but I do like a nice cigarette packet. Camels are my favourite with the cheerful camel and the pyramid – a design icon if ever there was one – but there’s a lot to be said for cocktail cigarettes and the Davidoff black and gold sort, though they’ve been ruined with the pictures of rotting teeth and blackened lungs. That notion of packaging being the silent salesman…yep, there’s something in that.
But is it really the business of Jane Ellison to take away the small aesthetic pleasure of a nicely designed cigarette packet – I once bought twenty Sweet Aftons just for the picture of the poet Tom Moore on the front – in order to ram home the message with which we’re wearily familiar? For the addicts already prepared to pay eight quid a packet is the dispiriting white box going to do the trick? The solution to the ban is rather obvious – scour flea markets for a vintage silver cigarette case and simply decant them into it. As for a new take on the design of a case, something affordable and accessible, why I think that’s a job for Sir David Hockney, an enthusiastic career smoker.
And where does it stop? Smoking is bad for you but so too is sugar – more addictive for rats than cocaine. If you’re going down this route, well, let’s have the blackened teeth pictures on the packets of Tate and Lyle or the fun packs of Mars, just to be even-handed. In fact even a health warning on sugar packets would be good; and if you think tobacco companies are the devil’s agents, you’ve never dealt with sugar processors. But when it comes to sleek shapes, winsome advertising, gender-directed labelling and classy packaging to promote a product to which nine per cent of men and three per cent of women are addicted and which costs the NHS by its own estimate £3.5 billion a year in consumption-related harm, well, let’s hear the case for putting blank labels on uniform bottles of alcohol, Montrachet to Bacardi Breezer. I wouldn’t care for that either, but it would at least have the merit of consistency.