Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Cigarette smoking just plain senseless

Ian Paisley Jnr is not 'pro-smoking'. Just so we're clear on that. He is objecting to plans to put cigarettes in plain packaging. Government says it will discourage young people from taking up smoking. Not sure I agree, but whatever.

The politician is in a difficult position. Gallaher/Japan Tobacco International, or JTI as it's known, employs people in Paisley's constituency. Jobs! Must protect jobs. No matter what, jobs must be safeguarded. Doesn't matter whether those jobs directly contribute to the deaths of millions of people every year, they must be protected.

When is it socially unacceptable to do a certain job? Would someone somewhere do ANY job, just to have a job? Would you find someone willing to dangle babies over a cliff edge for entertainment, if he or she was paid to do it? Probably.

But that's why we have laws, isn't it? To impose a consensus about what's acceptable and what's not, on the general public.

So, we decided collectively that it wasn't ok to keep sending small children up chimneys. Did the MPs at the time rail against the new laws saying that such employment was necessary for their constituents who relied on the income from those children to drive the local economy?

What did it take for us to make the difficult decision to say 'No more'? And when will we take it when it comes to cigarettes?

I often wonder how people who profit from the sale of junk food and sweets etc sleep in their beds at night. But, it can be argued, that the products themselves aren't inherently 'bad', it's only 'bad' if they're taken in anything beyond moderate doses.

But I don't think there's a single reputable person on the Earth who would argue that cigarettes are anything but 'bad'. They don't contribute a single positive thing to a smoker. They may temporarily stop the craving for nicotine, but they aren't doing anything positive for a person's health. As Alan Carr used to say, smoking's like putting on a pair of tight shoes, just for the relief of taking them off.

Maybe plain packaging on fags isn't going to stop them being bought. Maybe it will make smuggling easier if all branding is removed. I don't know. But that's not the point.

How can you say, 'I'm not pro-smoking', and then go on to defend an industry that makes billions in profit from cigs?

You can't have it both ways. Do our political leaders here not have any moral backbone? Any consistency? Peter Robinson condemns the burning of Polish flags on bonfires but says nothing about burning Republic of Ireland flags. Where's the leadership? Where's the integrity in their positions?

Politics isn't about being liked. It's about doing what's good. I'm sure the children who used to go up chimneys found other work eventually. You don't hear people lamenting the demise of the Under 10's Up The Flue brigades, do you?

Smoking belongs in the past. God help people who are addicted, it's hard to give up. But that doesn't mean we should keep making the things and profiting from another generation's misery. And politicians who can't show principled leadership don't deserve to be public representatives.

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