Alan Dee: Plain speaking works better than plain packaging

Opinion - Alan Dee
Opinion - Alan Dee

So, the next baby step towards the inevitable and overdue banning of tobacco sales completely, we are told, will be plain packaging.

Even those of you who are not in the grip of a nicotine habit are probably aware that in recent years steps have been taken to make smokers uncomfortably aware of the likely long-term consequences of their folly.

Sadly the blunt messages emblazoned on every pack that Smoking Kills and grisly pictures of diseased lungs to drive home the dire warnings are not persuading enough people to turn their backs on tobacco.

Shops of a certain size have to keep their cigarettes locked away in a cupboard, advertising has been banned for years, and now individual packs are going to be stripped of their carefully-calculated packaging.

You know how American drunks are often portrayed swigging from a bottle concealed in a brown paper bag, and grubby men buying mucky mags from a dodgy private shop are able to conceal their purchases beneath plain wrapping? It’s like that.

Apparently they’ve opted for this tactic in Australia and it’s said to have been successful, but it seems a bit of a cop-out to me.

There are, I think, a couple of other tactics that could have been brought into play on the packaging front before the move to plain paper.

If blunt warnings and grim post-mortem pictures don’t work, how about trying a few more direct messages?

First up, packs could carry a picture of a miserable smoker puffing away outside a bar or workplace as the rain pours down in the middle of winter, just to remind people of how unpleasant it is these days to persist with a fag habit.

Then we could take a leaf out of the book of those clever sorts who personalise greetings cards for you – every tobacco retailer would be expected to have a printing kit that would be able to create a picture of a gravestone on the front and back of the pack, complete with the buyer’s name and a date of death. That could be random or calculated against an actuarial table of some sort, but either way it ought to make smokers think twice before lighting up.

But having said that, the hard core smoker who has resisted every attempt to wean them off the habit sofar would probably just regard that as a handy way of making sure they never lost their fags in future.

My final suggestion, again adopting greetings card techology, would be to kit out every pack of cigarettes with a little sound card that created a dreadful hacking cough every time it was opened.

Would that help? I don’t know, but at least it might stop the smokers spending so long chatting outside the back door while the rest of us carry on working.