If you had to pick a single thing which changed socialising in the 21st century, it’s surely the smoking ban. Overnight, everything changed: it seems impossible now that ten years ago, you might be asked whether you wanted to sit in the smoking or non-smoking section of a restaurant, as though smoke sat neatly on one side of a table and respected your boundaries.
But it’s hard to summon up the same sense of social upheaval when it comes to redesigning cigarette packaging. I can’t think of anything I buy which I would stop buying because its branding had changed. Particularly not things I am borderline-addicted to (I don’t drink tea or coffee, but deprive me of Diet Coke, and I have a headache within a day. A headache, and a vendetta). I know it’s a revolting drink: but I like it, and there it is. If you changed the branding, and replaced it with a picture of a tooth disintegrating in the acidic morass of fizzy pop, I’d still buy it. I’d just put each can in a sleeve (which I already do, because I’m clumsy and I drink next to a laptop), and carry on swigging.
So I can’t understand why any smoker would care what their cigarette packets look like. You’re already having to stand in the rain to smoke them: this seems like a pretty minor inconvenience after that. I certainly can’t view it, as Nigel Farage does, as ‘an appalling intrusion into customer choice’. For that to happen, they’d have to start banning actual cigarette brands, not just the patterns on the box. If you’re going to miss the Rothman’s logo that badly, I’m sure some enterprising soul will soon be selling stickers you can wrap round the plain box to recreate the vintage look.
The only real impact is likely to be on those who don’t yet smoke: 200,000 children, aged between 11 and 15 take up smoking each year. I’m too old to know what anyone aged 14 considers cool, but I would guess that if cigarette packets weren’t at all alluring, tobacco companies would have redesigned them until they were.
I suppose it’s possible that some mischievous or short-sighted newsagent might give you the wrong brand when they all look the same. But if you are tough enough to face down lung cancer warnings, you’ll probably battle through a minor inconvenience like that.