Alan Dee: A singular solution to the problem of cigarette packaging

I’ve lost patience with the fairy steps approach to cigarette packaging, I’m afraid. It’s time for a more radical proposal.

Opinion - Alan Dee
Opinion - Alan Dee

You’ll recall that back in the dark ages, when people first began to suspect that gulping down lungfuls of noxious smoke on a regular basis might not the best way to ensure continued good health, the warnings began with a discreet bit of guidance on the side of the pack.

It was wordy, it was resigned, and it seemed more designed to give those at the top a ‘Well, don’t say you weren’t warned’ get out when wheezing victims of the wicked weed presented themselves for expensive medical treatment years down the line.

Because small print on the side of a pack was never likely to outweigh the siren call of nicotine addiction, it didn’t do much good, so the guardians of our health began to up the stakes.

The type started to get bigger and bolder, the messages starker and more severe, and the warnings moved from the side of the packet to cover most of the surface front and back. Still the smokers puffed on.

The next step saw pictures of diseased lungs and other exhausted organs slapped on to the pack, in the fond but foolish belief that diehard smokers would take a long look at medical specimens each time they were tempted to light up and be encouraged to think again.

Most recently we have seen cigarettes hidden away behind closed doors in all larger stores – but not corner tobacconists, so what’s the point? – and vending machines banished.

And now we are told that the way forward, particularly when it comes to steering children away from taking up the habit in the first place, is to do away with all glossy typefaces and bright inviting colours and force cigarettes to be sold in the plainest packs possible.

This, we are told, will make smoking less glamorous to impressionable youngsters – because we all know that grey-faced puffers shivering outside pubs and workplaces in the rain while they feed their pariah habit is such an irresistible recruiting call.

My solution, for what it’s worth, is simple. Ban all packaging completely.

How would that work? Well, you probably know that you can’t buy certain types of painkillers these days in bulk for fear of overdoses.

I think we should introduce the same sort of thinking to cigarettes.

It should be illegal to sell them except as individual units, or possess them, which would mean that every time you wanted a fag you’d have to walk down to the shops.

What’s more, shops allowed to sell tobacco would not be permitted to sell matches or lighters. Think about it – smokers would either finally give it up as a bad job, or at least get a bit of exercise as they feed their horrible habit.