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Will hiding cigarettes stop children smoking?

Mirela Ivanova stubs out some assumptions around the ban on cigarette advertising.

In an attempt to curb young smokers’ enthusiasm the government has now enforced a ban on displaying cigarettes and tobacco products in large shops and supermarkets. But it appears this ban is just another illustration of governmental wishful thinking. I am not aware of many teenagers who began smoking because of some really awesome display of tobacco in their local Sainsbury’s. In fact, I know a lot more who started smoking because their parents told them not to. This paternalistic government campaign is, thus, ringing all the wrong bells in teenage minds. If there is anything the government has learned while in power it should be - the public is highly likely to do what they are told not to. For instance, telling them not to panic buy petrol as a tanker strike is unlikely.

Moving cigarettes a step further away from the public eye makes them even more of a taboo. In teenage talk that is also known as cool. What’s surprising here is that the campaign is actually aimed at young people. An idea which I could find more appropriate is aiming the campaign at irregular smokers – those more likely to forget to buy cigarettes if they are not reminded by the huge counter in their local supermarket.

Still, all the campaigns against smoking are entirely missing the point. Health secretary Andrew Lansley told the BBC that he seeks to arrive at a place where 'young people just don’t think about smoking'. Yet anti-tobacco advertisements are everywhere. Has the government forgotten that all publicity is good publicity? A sign saying  ‘Smoking Kills’ across the road from a tobacco-selling supermarket is almost like advertising Alcoholics Anonymous across the street from your local pub. Those who do it will consider the distance to the pub, compare it with the 08 number offering them help and then remember they haven’t had a pint in a while. Those who don’t won’t even notice.

This campaign is just another attempt to embody worry for public health in the spheres of government while still respecting the large and profitable market for tobacco. An ambitious attempt considering that the government is heavily pressured by the large businesses which sustain the UK economy – tobacco being but one. Nonetheless, an attempt that is unlikely to make any impact on the audience it is targeting. For smoking to decline it must become unnatural to daily life, not simply put under the counter of daily life where we cannot see it, but we can still smell the burning carpet.

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