Why plain packaging on cigarettes is pointless
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Certain events cause the heart to stop. I mean this in the colloquial and figurative sense, not the real and fatal. My co-religionists of the death-giver's cult at least may know what I mean. It’s not dissimilar from the situation depicted in Auden’s prescient (and yet not prescient enough) On the Circuit. Then the worst of all, the anxious thought, Each time the plane begins to sink, And the No Smoking sign comes on… (And he goes on to mention drink… which I should be happy to write about but which finds no space here.) The case in question: you’ve made your request to the shop steward and (to save time) deigned to pay up in advance, and force of habit compels you unthinkingly to pick up and pocket your reward. Only once you are outside, and ready with flame at hand, do you realise that the dozy mare behind the counter has furnished you with the Wrong F*cking Brand. I have just had this experience. Or, rather, I thought I had. I asked and paid for my pack of Rothmans and found myself performing a rare triple-take when I saw in my hand a box, squat and black rather than the pleasant and elegant and (ironically) clean white and blue I had expected I became momentarily convinced that I had been given some strange and hitherto unknown brand of death which I had neither asked nor wanted for. I had a mind to deliver a stern rebuke to my shopkeeper, until I noticed the name on the pack; Rothmans, after all. The cause of this brief cardiac arrest is that my local shop has just taken its first delivery of the new ‘plain-packaged’ cigarettes, which our government last year decreed must become the norm. Shops have until May to sell the old, colourful packs and pouches; I can only assume that I have smoked my local shop out of their old stock well in advance of the deadline. The new packaging is peculiarly uniform and uniformly peculiar. The law states that a minimum of 65% must be covered with health warnings, and these take the familiar form of graphic pictures - which illustrate any one of the various tragic illnesses or ailments you may inadvertently purchase along with your biffies - as well as bold, unimaginative text. “Smoking Kills – quit now.” “Smoking damages your teeth and gums.” “Smoking makes your tackle shrink.” That sort of thing. Well, damn. But I didn’t know that! Still, my fondness for Orwell (himself fond of fags if not we fags) compels me to take every opportunity to cultivate “a power of facing unpleasant facts.” The pictures themselves have changed since they were first imposed upon the old, branded packs. Certainly it will necessitate a change in the rules of the game I’ve long played; a mix of Top Trumps and stamp collecting. Perhaps the old pictures will become more valuable as a raft of new images replace them. That bloke with a fetching tumour but catastrophically bad facial hair – you know the one? – was always my favourite; I wonder if he now qualifies as an antiquated rarity? He won’t have died in vain. It took a while to work out that the image adorning my new pack was a photograph of someone’s blackened rear-molar. The problem with molars is that they are quite often hard to reach – my dental records attest to this - let alone photograph properly. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me that a mouth was involved at all. It looked, at a cursory glance, like a mass of moist pinkness with some uncategorised white lumps. Something to see the gynaecologist about. The remaining 35% of the packaging is black. Just black. And this combination will, it is said, immunise impressionable young minds against the allure of bad and expensive habits. And my word, but we must think of the children! For doctors, as Charles Calverley noted in his Ode to Tobacco, have said it: How they who use fusees All grow by slow degrees Brainless as chimpanzees, Meagre as lizards; Go mad, and beat their wives; Plunge (after shocking lives) Razors and carving-knives Into their gizards.
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