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EDITORIAL: Cigarette packaging: an invitation to addiction  

The health secretary's campaign against tobacco advertising is more radical than it might at first appear
Jump to full article: The Guardian (uk), 2012-04-16


All of which has generated a predictable cry of "nanny state" from the justice secretary, Ken Clarke: "I am surprised that people think that young boys and others take up smoking because they are attracted by the packet." As well as being a former health secretary himself, Mr Clarke was also the deputy chairman of British American Tobacco. Enough said.

The case against smoking no longer needs to be made. Half of long-term smokers will die prematurely from their habit. Although the tobacco companies insist cigarette advertising is designed to generate brand loyalty and to increase market share, it is inconceivable that they do not also want to recruit new customers for their poisonous product. The super-cool Marlboro Man has been replaced by photographs of hospitalised patients with disgusting growths, but the look of a cigarette packet can still subtly suggest a longed-for sophistication. Banksy is right that our susceptibility to "lifestyle choice" advertising can make us vulnerable to sophistical techniques of manipulation. And when backed by the addictive qualities of nicotine, the libertarian case in favour of unrestricted advertising becomes an invitation to dependence, not freedom.

The only question is whether plain packaging would make matters worse. Naomi Klein's No Logo made unbranded material counter-cultural. Unbranded fags could do the same, possibly feeling just a little bit too much like exciting contraband. Addiction to the dreaded weed may be chemical, but it's also about the powerful cultural meanings that get associated with smoking. Disrupting these associations through further regulation is a worthwhile experiment. So why won't the health secretary contemplate similar measures against the fast-food industry?

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