The anti-smoking juggernaut is on the move again. Fortified by a Government decision that will require cigarettes to be sold in plain packs, it is now focusing its attention on look-alike lolly cigarettes. These have been a staple plaything for generations of New Zealand children without being considered harmful in any way. Suddenly, however, they have become a product that is said to promote the social acceptability of smoking and propel children into the arms of the tobacco giants.
Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia even talks of these candy cigarettes being designed to "corrupt our children". If Maori smoking statistics give her particular reason to be belligerent on this issue, hers is an over-the-top reaction of the type that has become rather too typical of the anti-smoking lobby. It seems hardly likely that large numbers of children who eat candy cigarettes are so entranced that the road ahead leads automatically to cigarettes. The damage of these products, if any, is surely minimal.
Factors other than lolly cigarettes play a far greater part in people taking up smoking. Price is the most important, as evidenced by the 10 per cent drop in tobacco sales in the year after a 12 per cent excise increase in 2010. Anti-smoking lobbyists know this but continue to blunder into dead-end streets.
These endeavours will neither reduce the incidence of smoking nor help the country become smoke-free by 2025. Indeed, the zealotry implicit in an attempt to ban children's playthings belittles their entire crusade.