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Government crusade is not the way to end smoking

Posted in: General Health 04 Apr, 2012

The increase in price on tobacco products announced last week as part of the new budget seems to be just the beginning of an anti-smoking crusade launched by the new government. The latest tactic involves a media campaign warning about the dangers of second-hand smoke.

The television advert shows a baby surrounded by smoke as his mother stands at a distance with a cigarette. It implies that the second-hand smoke inadvertently inhaled by children is invisible but potentially lethal.

The campaign comes as the government considers introducing a plain packaging rule for all cigarettes – despite the fact that legislation will soon be passed to prevent the display of tobacco products in large shops and supermarkets.

Last year Australia was close to becoming the first country to enforce the plain packaging rule, although it is currently being reconsidered by the senate as it is at odds with trademark rights.

So what do all these new regulations really mean for a society which is doing everything it can to stop the public from buying a legal product which generates millions of pounds every year in tax revenues?

Non-smokers should not have to suffer because people around them choose to poison themselves, and in the case of a smoking ban in public places or an advertising campaign to educate as to the dangers of passive smoke inhalation, the potential health benefits arguably outweigh the rights of smokers.

Nonetheless, smokers have to wonder at which point the government should stop trying to legislate over free will. Money is poured into research trying to establish how best to manipulate the public, whether it's with new regulations or emotionally charged advertisements. Yet what they fail to see is that no amount of pressure is going to make someone quit smoking if they don't already want to.

The Health Secretary Andrew Lansley justified the cost of the advertising campaign by saying that the effects of second hand smoke are largely unknown to the public. According to a report by the Royal College of Physicians, this type of exposure to cigarette smoke costs the NHS £23m a year.

Most smokers are at some point faced with the question "why do you do it?" from a dumbfounded non-smoker. Everyone is aware that they are significantly harming their bodies, yet few people know how to quit. Government funding for smoking cessation drugs is limited, yet the government is happy to spend our tax money on psychological research into how to best put people off cigarettes.

The charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has expressed its concerns regarding the potential slippery slope we could be sliding down, with the end result being social services considering parents who are smokers abusive towards their children.

However over-inflated the concerns regarding passive smoke inhalation may be, no one can deny the potential dangers and if the advertising campaign stops just one child from becoming ill due to second-hand smoke then it's probably worth it. Let's just hope the government doesn't turn its concerns into a hypocritical vendetta.

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