So much for getting Nanny State out of our lives. It seems all John Key really wanted when he campaigned last year against government intrusion into our private lives, was a chance to wear Helen's bonnet and do the same.

But even Helen Clark drew the line on setting herself up as chemist-in-chief on such matters as which cold remedies the rest of us could buy over the chemist counter. But not Nanny John.

On Monday he announced that Cabinet will decide within the next two weeks on just that issue. Perhaps he should add paint spray cans on the list of goods to ban as well. They do untold damage around the community in the wrong hands.

There are plenty of substitutes - though not as effective. But suggest a ban on them for the greater community good, or even some regulation in their sales, and every do-it-yourselfer in the land - and their National MP allies - cries foul.

Then there are those insidious alco-pop drinks aimed directly at kids. Far from banning them, we tend to give our booze barons knighthoods.

Sure the drug P is a scourge, and yes, it can be extracted by the determined, from certain cold pills. But when I am stricken by the common cold, my priority, however selfish, is to find an effective remedy.

So far, the only one available are the pills containing small quantities of pseudoephedrine.

Just a few weeks ago I flew to Sydney with a head cold, gobbling as I went, the supermarket snake oil which was being heavily advertised on television, suggesting a handful would soon have me back to normal. Well it might work in the make-believe world, with actors paid to pretend they are cured, but I sniffled through Sydney airport, worried I'd be whipped away to quarantine on suspicion of being a swine flu carrier.

My host, who was afflicted with the Aussie equivalent, had relief at hand, a box of the P-containing real stuff. The relief was dramatic.

It's not the first time I've treated myself as a guinea pig with these cold cures, and from my experience I can only agree with the New Zealand Pharmacy Guild and the British Pharmacological Society that the substitute drug phenylephrine is "an inferior substitute".

Short of an outright ban, another proposal before Cabinet is to make the P-containing cold remedies, prescription-only drugs. Certainly that would slow down the backyard P manufacturer's supply chain, but it would also ramp up the price and inconvenience for the tens of thousands of cold sufferers looking for instant relief.

It would add the cost of a visit to the doctor, it would delay the treatment until an appointment time was arranged, and it would clog up waiting rooms with infectious patients with an illness, both doctors and patients alike know, has no cure but time.

All this inconvenience to the innocent cold sufferer might be acceptable if it resulted in the end of the P scourge.

But even celebrity anti-P campaigner Paul Holmes, in his recent open letter to the Prime Minister, admitted that banning cold remedies was only a gesture. He said the $1.5 billion industry "has not come about because of the sale of a few cold and flu tablets over the counter of the chemist shops".

He said: "The main thrust of any war on P has to be launched at our borders.

"But as I say, the banning of sales of medicines containing pseudoephedrines to any Tom, Dick or Harry sends a message of intent."

Referring to the ban he told Mr Key, "if nothing else, it would be a positive signal that the Government is intent on getting a real handle on the P problem".

Well, this Harry doesn't like being treated as a Dick for the sake of making the Government look good. What Mr Holmes is saying is ban cold remedies for it's spin value, to make the Government look as though it's doing something, even though the real problem lies elsewhere.

At our borders, indeed, where the bulk loads of smuggled pseudoephedrine pour in undetected from, in the main, China.

The fact is, the authorities seem rather confused about the main source.

The recent Herald series on P noted that while police estimated that last year 70 per cent of illicit P came from cold and flu tablets, both the police and Customs say there has been a huge increase in direct smuggling from China.

Customs estimate crime syndicates are bringing in up to 15 million pills a year.

The Pharmacy Guild says Customs will intercept at least 1000 kilograms of a precursor known as Contact NT this year - 10-20 per cent of that being imported.

That's where the Government should be channelling its resources. Show the shipping companies and the importers and the Chinese authorities we mean business by opening every container from a suspect port.

The same with suspect parcels from China. Get tough at that end of the chain with the real scoundrels, don't beat up on innocent Kiwis with runny noses.

The Pharmacy Guild wants Government support for a successful Australian scheme called Project STOP, where over-counter sales are linked on-line to a central database, accessible by the police.

I'm all for it, as long as I can get effective cold relief when I need it.