The vindictive persecution of smokers by taxpayer-funded lobbyists must stop, insists Guillaume Périgois.
For many years now governments across Europe – and the European Union itself – have imposed increasingly strict measures to restrict smoking and ostracise smokers.
Smoking rates have been in gentle decline across the continent for decades now as habits and fashions change, and people become more health conscious. Everybody knows that smoking is a health risk, and these trends have been enhanced in recent years by the switch to vaping, an alternative developed not by government but by the market responding to consumer choice and advances in technology.
New government and EU regulations such as bans on smoking in restaurants and cafes, “plain packs”, larger health warnings and so on have made little difference to these long-term trends. These may give officials a sense of purpose but have as little practical effect as an ash tray fitted to a Harley Davidson.
However, this ongoing anti-smoker campaign is not just a pointless bureaucratic exercise. It poses serious questions about how European society sees itself and where the cultural as well as legal limits should be set on government action.
The tobacco control campaign has become nasty. Smokers are forced outside to enjoy their habit. The images on tobacco products have become grotesque and demeaning. “Plain packs” undermines freedom of expression. Above all the language used by anti-smoker campaigners, and supported by some regulators and legislators – that smokers should be ‘denormalised’ and treated as pariahs – is frankly sinister.
What is more, the public seems to have had enough of this relentless bullying.
A recent poll by Populus showed the extend of this unease. Fully 56% of those surveyed in Europe think that measures to restrict tobacco use have gone far enough.
Furthermore, they think that efforts to control smoking by health authorities such as the European Commission’s DG SANTE are misdirected. The poll shows that public priorities lie elsewhere – in tackling breast cancer, dealing with food information, waste and fraud or the issue of rare diseases.
Just 3% think that the introduction of the “plain packaging” of tobacco products is effective in curbing underage smoking. The public would rather see existing measures reinforced, such as mandatory education in schools and restrictions on retailing tobacco to children.
Attitudes towards smokers are markedly more tolerant than those of policy makers: 68 per cent think that bars and cafes should have the right to provide separate, well-ventilated smoking rooms.
Meanwhile there is a growing unease among the respondents at how the anti-tobacco campaign is conducted which is largely led by an industry of campaigner lobbyists who are funded by the government departments they target. The Populus poll shows that 60 per cent of EU voters think that lobbyists should not be funded by the taxpayer. In Germany, this number is as high as 74 per cent.
Everybody knows that smoking can harm your health and that sensible regulation of tobacco products should reflect this reality. But the vindictive ostracisation of smokers by taxpayer-funded lobbyists must stop.