£10 government permit plan to deter smokers

£10 government permit plan to deter smokers

John Carvel, social affairs editor The Guardian, Friday February 15 2008

A ban on the sale of cigarettes to anyone who does not pay for a government smoking permit has been proposed by Health England, a ministerial advisory board.

The idea is the brainchild of the board's chairman, Julian Le Grand, who is a professor at the London School of Economics and was Tony Blair's senior health adviser. In a paper being studied by Lord Darzi, the health minister appointed to oversee NHS reform, he says many smokers would be helped to break the habit if they had to make a decision whether to "opt in".

The permit might cost as little as £10, but acquiring it could be made difficult if the forms were sufficiently complex, Le Grand said last night.

His paper says: "Suppose every individual who wanted to buy tobacco had to purchase a permit. And suppose further they had to do this every year. To get a permit would involve filling out a form and supplying a photograph, as well as paying the fee. Permits would only be issued to those over 18 and evidence of age would have to be provided. The money raised would go to the NHS."

Le Grand said the proposal was an example of "libertarian paternalism". The government would leave people free to make their own decisions but it would "nudge them" in the right direction.

He said there was a parallel in pensions law. If workers were automatically enrolled in a pension scheme, few would choose to opt out. But if they had to make a conscious decision to opt in, most people would stay out.

"Breaking the new year's resolution not to smoke would be costly in terms of both money and time ... [This] would probably have a greater impact on poor smokers than on rich ones, hence contributing to a reduction in health inequalities."

The paper, written by Le Grand and Divya Srivastava, an LSE researcher, acknowledges: "Administratively it would require addressing the problem of the existing black markets and smuggling in tobacco; but this should probably be done anyway."

They add: "Politically, this might be viewed by some as giving people a 'licence' to smoke; and by full-blooded libertarians as a subtle and hence even more dangerous form of paternalism - paternalism squared.

"On the other hand, the popularity even among smokers of the smoking ban in public places suggests that firm actions in this area can lead to political as well as health pay-offs."

The paper also proposes incentives for large companies to provide a daily "exercise hour" for employees and a ban on salt in processed food.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said last night: "We will be consulting later this year on the next steps for tobacco control. Ministers are looking for input from a full range of stakeholders."

5 Replies

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  • It's an interesting idea but I can't help thinking it will lead to an increase in 'black market' sales of cigarettes - therefore eventually losing revenue for the government.

    Who's going to go to that much trouble when you can buy 200 in your local from a bloke that takes a van to calais every few weeks?

  • I do not agree in principle with a permit to smoke or to buy cigarettes as I believe that it can only evolve into permits for anything, drink; sex; etc.

    Still - if a deterrent did exist to stop my son getting hooked like I did, then I'd welcome it. Am I about to become a born again non smoker???? Argh!

    I was thinking about this when I read an article recently about the vaccine they are developing (currently in its second clinical trial phase) which essentially would make addiction to nicotine redundant as disabling its effects on our brains – a bit like Champix. Would I give my son this vaccine if available? I thought “yes” with no hesitation. Just like I got him immunised against all the childhood killer diseases, so should he be protected from the nicotine addiction and related health risks and the pain of quitting. Is this removing his freedom of choice or would I be justified in implementing my own form of “libertarian maternalism” (as a mother) ?

    Sorry it’s Friday and I am feeling thoughtful!

  • I agree with you in parts Sue - especially on the nanny state.

    ...but am think I personally never actively chose to smoke in the first place - I tried and hated that first cigarette but was hooked. I found it impossible until 4 weeks ago not to smoke even if I chose not to smoke. Where is the freedom in that?

    I was in favour of banning smoking in public places as I did believe as a smoker that I should not subject my smoking onto others if they objected to it. As a recent quitter, I do not regret this one bit. The fact is that I wish I'd never started smoking. I was an anti-smoking campaigner in my teens, coming home to my smoking parents brandishing banners showing diseased lungs and mouths and still took to it like a baby to its dummy so I do not believe education is enough. This does not mean that I agree with the permit but deterrents can only be a good thing surely?

    x

  • Hi Sue

    I know - this is a difficult one.

    No - no one pinned me down but the process of being addicted removed my freedom to remain a non smoker by making it so difficult to quit afterwards.

    My first puff was a drunken one, the second made me light headed (and I thought it wasn't so bad) and I was hooked by the third. I thought I had the choice to put it down just as easily as I lit it up and terribly I never could do it until now. So I still believe the addiction removed my choice - the alternative is to think I am weak willed, which i guess i am to some extend as I now rely on Champix to do some of the work for me. hmmm.

    Anyway - have a great weekend Sue and thanks for debating with me - I love Fridays!

    x

  • The smoking permit was pointed out to be unconstitutional as soon as it was mooted.

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