I was reading Nicholas Farrell’s ‘Smokers Diary’ in the summer issue of Free Choice when some austere thoughts occurred to me. Farrell was boasting about how he paid only £1.50 a pack for his Camel. This was because he lives in Italy, lucky devil, where smokes are infinitely cheaper. He predicted that the single market throughout the European Union would produce higher prices in Europe, rather than lower prices in Britain, because all politicians are frantic for more money to spend on their own ridiculous and self-important purposes.
In my experience as a smoker, the price of a single cigarette has risen from under 1p to 20p – more than the cost of a packet of 20 as a young man. The increase, says Farrell, is not because the British government cares about people’s health but because it wants the cash.
This is obviously true, and is proved by the fact that Chancellors of the Exchequer in the good old days measured duty increases by the amount they reckoned they could get away with before people stopped buying cigarettes, or wine, or whisky, or whatever.
What Farrell omitted to mention is that nowadays we have a seriously goody-goody Prime Minister who actually wishes to stop people from smoking. His proposed ban on cigarette advertising, which will not bring the Revenue an extra penny, is designed, he says, to discourage children or ‘kids’ from taking up the habit.
How many ‘kids’ does he suppose read the Literary Review, of which I have been editor for the past 13 years? The only thing which gives it anything approaching commercial respectability is the tobacco advertising from such enlightened patrons as BAT, Gallaher and a few others. FOREST, God bless them, even pay for our monthly party for contributors and other literary folk. The magazine will almost certainly have to close. Is that a useful thing for Tony Blair to have achieved?
It is observable how politicians of every sex and persuasion always bring in some reference to ‘the kids’ when they wish to impress us with their sincerity. I imagine a special race of politician ‘kids’ who never smoke, never drink except in extreme moderation, concern themselves with voluntary activities and are passionately interested, above all else, in supporting racial equality.That is the idea, at any rate. In point of fact an amazingly high proportion of MPs’ children end up going to the bad, as criminals, idlers and social parasites. One pities them, of course. If only the little darlings had been allowed the occasional cigarette, when they wanted one.The reason our fellow Europeans are unlikely to increase their duty to within hailing distance of the British model is that they have a noisy and outspoken range of public opinion which will not let them get away with it. It is only in Britain that we defer, by nature, to the self-appointed goody-goodies, telling us it is in our own best interests not to smoke.
Since Mr Hague appointed Gary Streeter as his Shadow Environmental Secretary, it is plain that Britons have no democratic choice in the matter of smoking. Streeter not only supports restrictions on advertising, but also demanded, in a letter to the chief executive of BAT, that they should be extended to foreign countries.
Perhaps Free Choice is an unsuitable forum for urging my fellow countrymen to bloody revolution. But somebody has got to do it, somewhere.
One cannot help observing that among the great anti-smokers of history, from Hitler and Mussolini to Tony Blair, William Hague and Gary Streeter, it is only the later ones who have tried to spread their odious opinions and stop everyone from smoking.
Hitler and Mussolini, while forbidding anyone to smoke in their presence, never tried to ban it from government offices or forbid tobacco advertising. They were too sensitive to public opinion to try and stop it altogether.
Tony Blair and Gary Streeter seem to think they are in a stronger position. We shall see. We shall see. I would be surprised if the politicians of Italy and France succeeded in doubling or tripling tobacco duty as a consequence of the EU single market, although I agree it will be a miracle if the British government reduces ours.
It was Mrs Thatcher’s great objection to the single market – which she called a ‘nightmare’ – that it would involve drastic cuts in tobacco and alcohol duty.
In those days, it seemed inevitable that Britain would be required to reduce prices in line with the single market, and it was on that basis that I pledged undying loyalty to the European cause, the Euro, and everything connected with it.
Since then, the British government has got round the issue by keeping the same genocidal rate of duty here, while not preventing anyone from buying their cigarettes and alcohol in Calais. But who wants to cross the Channel in a ferry every time they require a packet of cigarettes at a reasonable price?