I Hate Smoking and My Father Died of Lung Cancer, but I Still Say It's Wrong to Ban Cigarette Advertising

Article excerpt

Byline: SIMON HEFFER

I HAVE never smoked. I never even had the single, experimental puff supposed to be de rigueur for schoolboys of my generation.

I find the whole business of smoking - the smell, the fumes, the gorge-tightening taste in the air - so instinctively repellent that I can hardly bear to be in the same room as someone puffing on a cigarette.

I am an extreme case. There is no context in which smoking appears to me to be anything other than disgusting. Put a cigarette in the hand of even the most beautiful woman, for example, and she becomes repulsive.

My father, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer when I was ten. It was a horrible death and a waste of a life that should have had years more to run.

Ever since then, I have never understood why people indulge in a nasty habit that can only shorten their lives and aggrieve their families and friends.

However, I entirely support their right to engage in an activity still permitted by law and whose main harm is to the smoker.

That is why yesterday's self-righteous pronouncement by Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, that the Government intends to ban the advertising of tobacco - to include the sponsorship of sporting events by cigarette companies - seems so ridiculous.

The fundamental philosophical problem any government has with such a measure is that if something is so bad that it can no longer be advertised, why can it be sold at all?

The unspoken reality is that the habit of smoking cigarettes is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle.

Cigarettes could become a class A drug - and therefore illegal - only at the expense of a massive chunk of liberty and the sort of bootlegging, gangsterism and near-anarchy that accompanied the prohibition of alcohol in Twenties America. And we have enough of a problem in that regard with existing class A drugs.

So, instead, the Government chooses this cop-out. It cannot ban cigarettes, so instead it will ban the advertising of them.

But that invites a further thought. Where is the proof that advertising cigarettes in the strictly controlled way permitted in this country actually entices or encourages people to smoke?

Now it may be that small, impressionable children whose minds have never been polluted with even the idea of smoking may be susceptible to the advertisers's wiles.

On seeing a hoarding with a purple piece of silk slashed by a razor, it may be that they are suddenly overwhelmed with the irresistible urge to smoke themselves silly.

That may be the case, but I doubt it. We all know why people smoke, even if we have never smoked. It's because their friends or their families smoke - the great satan of peer pressure claims yet another victim.

Mr Dobson pooh-poohs the claim, put forward by the tobacco industry, that advertising serves simply to influence the choice of brands, not the principle of whether or not to smoke.

He has no more proof of the wrongness of that statement than I have about its rightness; but common sense and what we know of the world tells us that he is wrong and the tobacco companies are right. …