Thoughts on Plain Packaging for Cigarettes

by David McDonagh

It is hard not to despair when one pays attention to current events or hears programmes like Any Questions on the radio or Question Time on TV. The latest idea is that blank cigarette packets might affect the smoking habits of people, maybe children. Why anyone would think such a thing is far from clear. But they are trying it out in Australia. Plans to copy it were delayed this week. Dianne Abbott said it was sacrificing health to the tobacco lobby.

But why would anyone think this idea was even one whit realistic? Do they similarly feel sweet sales would fall if all sweets were put in plain packets?

The Labourites were using it to get the Tories to drop Lynton Crosby, as they maybe feel he is useful to the Tories. He has worked for Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco firm. They asked Cameron, the Prime Minster if he had ever spoken to Crosby on tobacco but got the reply that he had not lobbied him.

Too much respect has been paid to Anna Soubry, a Junior Heath Minister whose father died of lung cancer. She thought it germane that a poll showed that 64% agreed with here that plain packets could lower demand for cigarettes.

If the low level of political opinion is annoying the press seems to even surpass them for stupidity. The Independent, a misnomer if ever there was one, though there is a journal that calls itself The Economist, says the Tories are not only thinking of retaining Crosby but also fear that they might lost funding from the big tobacco firms.

Backward Joan Smith writing in the in The Independent on Sunday had a similar deadhead outlook to Anna Soubry. She wrote, “Ministers should hang their head in shame. Smoking kills around 100,000 people a year in the UK, among them my own father who died of lung cancer at the age of 63. Yet the tobacco companies – forever in need of new customers to replace those they kill – have managed to persuade 25% of people in their 20s to take up the habit. The government should be doing a\ll it can to persuade them to quit.”

Clearly, the tobacco firms killed no one. The pleasure that smokers get is immediate but the effect on current health are slight, though they might accumulate over a few decades. That clearly looks like a price worth paying to most smokers. The presentation of the packet is clearly not going to affect that ratio of incentives to disincentives one iota.

13 responses to “Thoughts on Plain Packaging for Cigarettes

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  2. I share David’s near despair over the lack of support for freedom ON PRINCIPLE among the political and academic elite (and the want-to-be types in the public). If one can not prove that freedom in a particular case has good consequences then freedom must go (as the lack of perfection in the world is blamed on the “excessive” freedom) and the case for freedom must be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. As the burden of proof is against freedom – due to the conception of what humans are that is now popular and influential. A view that holds that freedom is not of moral importance – because humans are not beings anyway, we do not “really” make free choices (so taking away something, freedom, that we do not really have – can not be a bad thing).

    Books such as “Freakonomics”, “Nudge” and “Thinking; Fast and Slow” are not only respectable – they are mainstream. Their vision that is it right to manipulate humans “for their own good” considered normal (indeed noble).

    Demanding plain packs for cigs is straight out of this play book.

    The idea is that humans are not really beings – we do not really make choices. So (for example) we are easy pray for the cig companies (the evil corporations) who manipulate the puny humans by nice designs on the packs – change the designs and you change the behaviour of the human non beings. So runs the theory.

    The interesting thing is that the authors of these books (and their vast numbers of influential readers) plainly do not think they are human – they are some other species that really does make real choices, but they wish to help the puny humans out of goodness of their non human hearts.

    What a noble species they must be.

    By the way this non being view of humans is an ancient one – it is just a question of how powerful it is at a particular time.

  3. “Ministers should hang their head in shame. Smoking kills around 100,000 people a year in the UK….” Well, maybe, but I always suspect that such statistics are about as skewed and diddled with as were the global warming projections and computer models of recent memory. If that statistic is true, I think it’s more a complaint about 100,000 tax cows perishing per year and robbing the state of continued revenue than about concern for people’s lives. And such statistics simply do not take into account a person’s physical predisposition to dying from any kind of cancerous cause. Now, suppose some scary statistics came out about the number of people who slipped and fell in bathtubs and died, or who died in car accidents or from putting their fingers into live electric sockets. Nothing would justify the government regulating or even banning bathtubs, cars, and electrical outlets, but the mindsets of regulators or wannabe regulators would immediately glom onto those stats and cry murder without the least nod to personal, voluntary choices and the revelation that most of this propaganda is based on pseudo-science. Reality is the last thing such creatures consider. It’s their enemy.

  4. An interesting point is, if humans are incapable of making real choices – why should the (non human?) elite care if they (the humans) kill themselves by smoking?

    I suppose the argument is that humans are like pet dogs or cats – and it is the duty of the elite (as the pet owners) to make choices that their pets can not properly make (because the pet humans are capable of feeling pleasure and pain – but not capable of planning ahead).

    • That was an amusing comment Paul. Pets indeed! However, is it not the case that those who wish to “nudge” us would admit to their own fallibities and weaknesses (i.e. that they are human), yet believe that they can design public policy to benefit us all due to their superior intelligence (if not their superior morality)?

  5. Pretty much that, yes Paul. These people are basically just big bags of conceit.

  6. Thanks for your two replies, above Paul.

    It has always got on my nerves that people feel that mere adverts have a big impact on what we buy.

    I think that adverts could persuade if only they took out long articles or long enough TV time but that they never need to do so thus they rarely attempt to do so. All that is really needed to boost sales is to draw the attention of potential buyers to wares that, if the entrepreneurship is right, will have many customers out there who would like to buy the goods already.

    I smoked from the age of nine to the age of sixteen but began attempting to forever give it up at the age of twelve, but went back for the pleasure quite a few times before finally dumping the habit. I noticed that I did want the pleasure of smoking but not the costs of the long run ill health, or even the short run affects of getting out of breathe rather faster than before I began smoking [or in the long periods of when I stopped]. I doubt if the packet would ever matter. I largely smoked the found nubs that the adults threw away anyway, especially when I first began. I shudder to recall my folly.

    On liberty, I think Hobbes was right that we can hardly get rid of it while we live but the LA wants social liberty that is to respect the liberty of one and all, as Kant might have it, to treat all persons as ends. Hobbes holds all persons responsible for all that they do. Kant holds that we should never scotch the liberty of other persons in a gratuitous way. But Kant did not seem to realise that the state does have to do that just to exist. Hobbes was not a liberal, of course.

    We do not need a case for natural individual liberty. We do argue the LA case for complete social liberty.

    I do not think that anyone holds that humans are not moral agents, Paul, but they often do not want to judge others or to blame them. It is almost as if they hold that morality itself is ironically immoral!

    I suspect that the psychologists over-rate their techniques of manipulation. Their ideas of human nature seem to hopelessly wrong.

    I do not think even one of those psychologists/economists truly hold, in their everyday practical lives, that others are not responsible. There never was anything in philosophy or science that I know of that ever affected this fact about human responsibility. We all tacitly know it.

    I think they all know that others are humans, Paul. We all tacitly assume that. There is a limit to human ignorance, even in the colleges.

    Thanks for your reply Edward.

    I think there will be a theory that the supporters of the measure have for feeling they are right but I expect it to be fairly thin and very confused.

    If they do care about the smokers, they would do well to stress short run costs to them in speeches on the media, like we get out of breathe way sooner if ever we smoke.

    It is true that there are many other dangers.

    I suppose they do feel that blank packets affect the choice of people, Paul, but it is not clear why they think that. Maybe some of them do just like wasting the taxpayer’s money on a futile parliamentary exercise.

  7. Ian – yes. Lee – want to hear something worse? Well you will anyway….

    Some of these scumbags call themselves libertarians.

    For example, the author of “Nudge” (Cass S. – the ex regulation Commissar for Comrade Barack, and husband of S. “Responsibility to Protect” Power – oh yes this is global) calls his doctrines “libertarian paternalism”.

    You see – because he favours using taxes and regulations (such as plain packets or else) to enforce his desires (as opposed to just shooting people) he is a nice guy. A reformer – a “libertarian”.

    The word is going down the same drain that “liberal” went a century ago – with publications such as “The Nation” advocating the policies they had (rightly) condemned only a few years before.

    Soon the word “libertarian” will mean someone who does not believe that freedom is possible (humans do not “really” make choices – they can not do otherwise than what they are manipulated to do) so the choice is between “the rich” and “the corporations” (boo hiss!) manipulating people, or wise “libertarian” guardians manipulating them via the noble government (hip, hip, hurrah!) for their own good…… for their “happiness”…….

    I am not exactly a happy bunny rabbit – but even I never predicted that this would come to pass. It knocked me sideways when I first came upon what was happening.

  8. Lee I tried to reply to you twice, the system just said I was writing too quickly (how can a mal coordinated person like me be typing two quickly?). Anyway – (to cut a long story short) I do regard “libertarian paternalism” as a contradiction in terms (because it is based on force – taxes and regulations). So I reject the starting point of the author of the article.

    David – as you say Thomas Hobbes was not a liberal (and not just because the word was not used to describe a political philosophy at the time), nor was he interested in a human definition of liberty. Blow up a dam with gunpowder and the water is “free” – and human freedom (to Hobbes) is no different. There is no question of moral choice involved (for example making a choice to risk one’s own life by going to help someone who has been attacked) – because the Hobbesian view of what humans are does not include such a thing as moral choice. This is the basis of Hobbesian anti liberalism – if humans really were the creatures that Hobbes holds them to be, then their freedom would be morally unimportant and the ruler or rulers need not respect it. In short his politics is in accord with his philosophy.

    You are also right about adverts.

    An advert can draw attention to a product “You are never alone with a Strand” – but if people decide they do not like the product, the advert can not make them buy it.

    An advert is basically “look at me, look at me” – a successful advert does lead people to having a look. But if they then decide they do not like the product no advert can change matters.

    “But what of the arch manipulator salesman?”

    Such a person may succeed in conning someone – but he (or she) is actually NOT a good salesman.

    A good salesman is not a con artist (always seeking new victims – as people work out they have been sold a pup), a good salesman tries to work out who would actually like the product (and buy more of it later – if convinced to try it).

    The first question a good salesman (as opposed to a con artist) asks themselves is “who would like this?”

    And if the answer is “nobody” (or not enough to make the thing worth producing) that is what a good salesman should tell his company – well in advance of production.

  9. You seem to have a talent for saying things exactly wrong, Paul.

    However, false ideas do not matter much but you would do well to rethink them thus shed them all the same

    Hobbes gets natural individual liberty right. We are bound to be free in the way he says. But it is not exactly liberal.

    The LA, by contrast, tends to agree with Kant that we ought to respect the liberty of all; social liberty. That is liberal.

    Hobbes is also right that we remain responsible for all that actually we do.

    You seem to enjoy saying silly things about Hobbes for some reason. If you want to be a good critic you need to be way more pedantic.

    It is good to se that you are sound on adverts.

  10. David – Hobbes is clear in holding that the human capacity for CHOICE (what libertarians mean by freedom – the capacity to choose, to do other than we do) does not exist. That “free people” are just like “free water” of a dam has been blown up – or a robot that has malfunctioned.

    If the Hobbesian view of humans (that humans are not beings) is correct, then enslaving humans is no more a moral offence than programming a robot is a moral offence. And exterminating humans would not be a moral offence either – no more than smashing a clock would be a moral offence to the clock.

    The politics of Hobbes flows naturally from his philosophy.