Monday, 24 March 2008

Cigarettes may go under the counter

Before I start this rant let me make one thing clear: I don't smoke, never have smoked, never will smoke. When the smoking ban started last summer I rejoiced in the fact that my occasional foray into a local pub would not mean second hand smoking for me or my returning home smelling like a well used ashtray (having said that I have some understanding of those people who suggested that pubs for instance should have designated smoking areas, totally impractical I believe but nevertheless I have a little sympathy toward that viewpoint).

What has happened now though (rant begins here) is that the government have suggested the idea that pubs divest themselves of cigarette machines and that shops hide their fags under the counter. The reasoning we are told is that youngsters won't be so tempted to take to the dreaded weed. I want to know who has let the lunatics out of the asylum. The first point is that, for better or worse, the sale of tobacco products to people over a certain age is a legitimate activity. That being so surely the retailer has an absolute right to decide just where he or she puts these products. Have the thought police the remotest idea how the retail sector works? The answer appears to be "no". Go into a busy newsagent first thing in the morning and the last thing the assistant needs is to bend down and fumble around under the counter to give their customer twenty fags to go with the paper whereas at the moment they just have to reach a shelf behind them. And what about the cigarette kiosk at a supermarket? Are they supposed to have a blank wall behind them with their wares hidden from view. In a small shop or corner store there would have to be a considerable outlay too, in modifying the layout, for the hard pressed proprietor - are they supposed to pick up the tab?

We all know these days about the ruinous effects on health that smoking can bring. Drink alcohol to excess and one's life can be shortened. Using the same skewed logic then a supermarket should have kiosks with all their liquor out of sight and out of mind. I have seen no convincing evidence to suggest that young people seeing tobacco products on a shelf are any more likely to indulge than if they knew they were hidden under the counter. As for cigarette machines in pubs surely these establishments have suffered more than enough without this prohibition as well.

I was surprised to see that David Cameron has stated that the idea is one worth considering. Get into the higher echelons in politics and it seems reality and common sense are left behind.

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