The definition of irony. A British Red Cross ambulance paid for by the workers of the Bristol cigarette manufacturers WD & HO Wills 1914-18. Image courtesy of brizzle born and bred.

As a life long non-smoker and rabid anti-smoker, no one has appreciated and enjoyed the progressive decline in smokers’ freedoms than me.

A combination of punitive taxation and escalating restrictions on the places people can smoke, as well better education and more effective quitting programmes are taking their toll on the the hardcore of smokers out there.
And hurrah for that. Britain is an immeasurably more civilized place to live and work in now that you virtually never smell cigarette smoke.
However, even I have started to wonder whether it is time to change the focus of society’s efforts at stubbing out tobacco use. Even I have begun to wonder whether we need to lighten up on those that chose to light up and to put a halt to further restrictions in the freedom that smokers enjoy.
Most anti-drugs programme attack supply not just demand and yet the vast majority of the anti-smoking effort is directed against smokers rather than the makers of the stuff themselves. Increasingly this feels like a cop out.
In any functioning market economy there are a whole array of freedoms that commercial organisations should and do enjoy. The freedom to make the products and services that they see fit, the freedom to set their price, the freedom to promote them and the freedom to establish and use ‘brands’ to maximise the sales and profitability of those products or services.
They are freedoms in as much that society can limit them if commercial organisations, or the sectors to which they belong, transgress the rules and codes of that society. We might call this a withdrawal of priviledges, much as you might progressively withdraw freedoms from a trucculant teenager. And this is the place we should concentrate our efforts as a society, further withdrawal of the priviledges and commerical freedoms of the Tobacco industry.
It is true that we have already withdrawn the priviledge to promote tobacco in paid for media but the the next step in attacking the supply side of the battle against smoking has to be to remove the freedom to ‘brand’ their products and thus force the industry into a commodity market.
As we preach on a daily basis commodity markets are terribly unattractive place to be and particularly in this sector which is more dependent on its brands than its customers are on the weed.
Brands create sales and generate profits by making products more attractive to people than reason of price and availability would suggest. They are a means to establish and maintain market share and to command a premium over the competition for parity or near products. As we have so often said, brands are a business person’s best friend.
And that’s what makes it imperative that the right to use brand tools is removed from this sector. Commodity tobacco with products graded according to nicotine strength will remove what little wind is left in the sails and sales of Big Tobacco. After all attacking the supply side of the business is the real front line in the battle against smoking, not maximising the number of shivering people huddling outside the office having a desperate fag.
‘As I please’ was the name of George Orwell’s regular column in Tribune during the Second World War

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