The nanny state has spoken and we, the people, have listened. Worse still, we’ve obeyed. Figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that spending on alcohol and tobacco has fallen to its lowest level since records began. The average household’s expenditure on tobacco, alcohol and recreational drugs has fallen to £11.40 a week, a 41 per cent decrease on the same figure in 2001-2002.
This seems more remarkable when one considers the sharp spike in the cost of cigarettes, now valued at similar prices to those of saffron or gold. The price tag could be a deterrent, but this seems unlikely — a smoker is a drug addict and will pay for his or her fags no matter how much the price increases on a packet.
Adding further shock to the news was the revelation that the younger generation is leading the way on matters of sobriety and non-smoking. According to the ONS, one quarter of under-25s are now teetotal. This I find mightily surprising.
The government’s campaign against smoking has been carried out with great ardour. It has been entirely unavoidable. In 1971, all cigarettes were issued with warnings that ‘smoking can damage your health.’ Three decades later, this evolved to ‘smoking kills’ and ‘smoking seriously harms you and others around you.’ Today, health warnings must cover 30 per cent of a cigarette packet, alongside a truly grotesque pictorial warning on packets that are increasingly unbranded. In 2007, smoking was banned in enclosed public spaces.
And, despite my protestations to the contrary, it is obviously a good thing that we try not to smoke — it’s dangerous, it’s expensive, it smells bad and, of course, it is completely pointless. But the world would be a more pleasant place if we worked out these glaringly obvious facts for ourselves, without them being rammed down our throats at every turn.
It goes without saying that smoking is foolish. We know it is responsible for a quarter of deaths from cancer, that it costs the National Health Service nearly £2 billion a year and that over 80 per cent of deaths from lung cancer, bronchitis and emphysema are caused by smoking. All of this is true, and all of it is frightening. Clearly we, the British nation, are duly scared.
Finally, after years of being bamboozled into spirals of hypochondria, fear and loathing, we are stubbing out the fags and rejecting the beers, wines and spirits. The nanny state reigns supreme and we are showing our captors what good little citizens we can be. It’s enough to make me dive for the Marlboro Reds. But that would be cutting off my lungs to spite my chest.