Smoking licences a good idea

Today it was proposed that smokers should have to buy an annual permit if they want to be able to buy cigarettes. The proposal, by government advisory board Health England, is that smokers would have to choose to “opt in” to buying tobacco by paying £10 a year for a permit. The permit would have to be renewed every year, which would involve filling in a long form. This, more than the cost, would hopefully deter some smokers. It is also thought that, faced with having to make a conscious decision to apply for the licence, some of the many smokers who would like to give up would be helped to reach their goal more quickly.

I think this is a great idea, and is actually something that had occurred to me before. Such a licence would also help to prevent sale of tobacco to under-18s, as shopkeepers would have to check the licence, so would not have to guess young people’s ages. It would also mean that smokers’ permits could be revoked if they were found to be deliberately disobeying no smoking laws, or even as punishment if they were convicted of other public order offences (e.g. fighting outside the pub).

The licences need only have a photograph of the holder and a minimum of details, so they needn’t be seen as a breach of someone’s privacy. The holder’s name needn’t even be printed on the it. However, I wouldn’t have any objections to the database of smokers’ names being available to insurance companies, to weed out a few cheats who falsely claim to be non-smokers.

I have to say, though, that I don’t think the £10 charge is necessary. A modest rise in tobacco duty would cover the costs of the scheme. As the health board’s chairman, Julian Le Grand, has said, it’s the form-filling that will put smokers off, not the fee – I don’t imagine £10 per year is going to deter many people, given the fortune they must already be spending on cigarettes. If the permits were available for free on completion of the application form, it would prevent pro-smoking groups being able to complain it was simply “an extra form of taxation” on smokers. If they continued to oppose the permits, one could draw the conclusion that they support sale of cigarettes to under-age people, or that the tobacco manufacturers intend to keep people hooked on smoking who really would like to give up.

Of course, there are people who are saying, “Now it’s tobacco, next it’ll be alcohol.” I actually think a similar sort of permit for buying alcohol (but not necessarily renewable every year) would be a good idea. It would prevent sale of alcohol to under-age people. It could also end the ridiculous situation where a middle-aged person is buying a bottle of wine from the supermarket, but the young checkout operator isn’t old enough to approve the sale to them, even though the customer is clearly over 40, sometimes resulting in the whole queue of people at the checkout being held up for a couple of minutes. The ability to revoke alcohol permits from people would also be a very useful tool in tackling anti-social behaviour. Anyone who’d had their alcohol licence taken off them for a few weeks would no doubt be the subject of ridicule by their peers, the thought of which would be a big deterrent to drunken bad behaviour in the first place.

I do hope the tobacco permit idea is adopted, but think they should reconsider the admin fee. This is an important public health measure, so I hope the government doesn’t simply intend to use it as an opportunity for another stealth tax – or at least, make it look that way to other people.

6 responses to “Smoking licences a good idea”

  1. Tony

    I see your point, and thanks for your comment. I just feel that it won’t be enough. Whilst I’m all for helping people quit and stopping underage smoking I don’t think this could be the answer. Given that people are already willing to risk their and other’s health I don’t think an extra tenner a year nor filling in the form will bother them while underage smokers will simply get a permit holder to buy them as with underage drinkers and i.d holders.

  2. Sheeping

    Think you will find that a lot of folk agree with your comments Jonathan. It is a very clever idea, but I don’t think it will ever see the light of day..based on the presumption that if you let this go – it will eventually open the floodgates for similar policies on fast food and alcohol etc.

  3. Chris Thompson

    I think its a totally crap idea! Another sign of the “nanny state” we live in.

  4. David

    Okay – I see your point. I am a social smoker, About 5 cigars a year., no more. Should I really have to fill in a lengthy form? I realise that the duty will increase anyway. How do you think I should be treated? Fairly? Or otherwise?

  5. Graeme

    At last – the government has finally achieved it’s ambition by suggesting that, to start with at least, some of the people are charged for the air that they breathe. Once again Gordon and Alistair have got their hands in my back pocket and are intent on helping themselves. Does anybody with an IQ greater than their shoe size honestly believe this will make the slightest difference, other than to create a thriving black market – ‘Ere Guv, wanna licence? Fell off the back of an MP

  6. harley

    licences are a good idea

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