Adam Smith Institute on plain packaging

Christopher Snowdon from the Adam Smith Institute blogs on the push for plain packaging the the UK:

The coalition of state-funded anti- groups have started revving up their trusty public relations machine for yet another legislative campaign. While their temperance counterparts concentrate on minimum pricing, the anti-tobacco lobby has its heart set on ‘plain packaging’.  …

It is one thing to force a manufacturer to label a product with a warning, but quite another to confiscate the packaging in its entirety to create public propaganda from private property. Rather than helping people make informed decisions, it seems that the overriding goal of plain packaging is to annoy the tobacco industry, inconvenience retailers and stigmatise consumers. Few of us will feel especially sympathetic towards the cigarette companies, but hard cases make bad law and the senseless trampling on property rights, along with the likelihood that the temperance lobby and diet police will emulate the anti-smoking trailblazers (as ever), has implications that go far beyond tobacco.

That is my concern. Already some in the temperance lobby are pushing for all beer and wine to have nothing on its label except required factual information. So if they get plain packaging for cigarettes, then the push will be for beer and wine also to follow suit, and then of course food that is disapproved of.

Secondly, there are sound consequentialist grounds to oppose the policy. There is no evidence whatsoever that the sight of a cigarette pack encourages nonsmokers to take up a notoriously unhealthy habit, and even ASH do not claim that it will have any effect on existing smokers. Numerous focus groups, including ASH’s own “citizen’s jury”, have expressed profound scepticism about the prospects of plain packaging lowering the smoking rate. 

There are a number of initiatives that could well reduce smoking rates, but I tend to agree that plain packaging is not one of them. I doubt it would stop a single person from smoking.

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