PICTURE the scene. You smoke. You fancy a cigarette. You go to the local shop to buy a pack.
All routine so far ... until the shopkeeper says: “Sorry sir, can I see your licence first please?”
Sounds a bit far-fetched but if one smoking expert gets his way, that will become the norm.
Not only that, to get the licence in the first place you will have to answer questions like ‘if 100 people were diagnosed with lung cancer, how many would we expect to be alive in five years time?’ and ‘how many known carcinogens (chemicals which are known to cause cancer) are there in cigarette smoke?’
The man behind the idea of a licence is Professor Simon Chapman, one of the world’s leading figures on Tobacco Control.
Explaining how it would work, he said: “Penalties for sales to unlicensed persons would be severe, with the threat of the loss of a retail licence, as is now the case for pharmacists supplying restricted drugs to anyone without a prescription.
“As a quit incentive, all licence fees paid during a smoker’s licensed smoking history would be fully refundable, with compound interest.”
On the side of Chapman is Jane Roberts, Head of Tobacco Control at NHS Blackpool.
Her mission is to reduce the number of people taking up smoking.
“We need to listen to this idea because anything that makes it more difficult to buy cigarettes has got to be a good thing,” she said.
“The big thing, though, is communicating to the public just how dangerous smoking is.
“On average, it takes 10 years off your life. It can lead to cancer, all sorts of breathing problems, and heart disease. But many people still don’t realise that and that’s what we are trying to do - make them aware.”
The health risks associated with smoking are beyond doubt and most people, even the heaviest of smokers, acknowledge having a regular puff on a cigarette isn’t good for you.
But it doesn’t mean they agree with every anti-smoking campaign dreamt up by the powers-that-be.
Hamish Howitt ended up in court after leading a long-running battle against the smoking ban introduced five years ago. That ban made it illegal to smoke in workplaces and enclosed public spaces such as hotels, pubs, cafes and restaurants.
Mr Howitt, who ran the Crazy Scots Bar in Blackpool, called it a ‘breach of liberty’.
His view on the licence is that it is hypocrisy on the part of those who come up with the ideas. He explained: “I wish everybody stopped smoking but that doesn’t mean those who do have to be patronised. All these people that advocate banning smoking or needing a licence, drive their big 4 by 4s which churn harmful gas out into the environment. Why should we breathe that? I believe all cars and lorries should be banned of going within 100m of every school.
“But no one talks about that because it is the wealthy that drive and it is the working class that tend to smoke.
“It is a disgrace to keep banging on about smoking when so much else is wrong.”
Rod Bullough, part of the pressure group Freedom 2 Choose, has a similar disdain for the licenced smoking plan.
“People are old enough and wise enough to make their own decisions without politicians holding their hands,” said Mr Bullough, director of Duckworth’s Vending Machines on Clifton Road, a cigarette vending machine business.
“I would be saying this whatever my business. I am a libertarian and I believe we as people should be allowed to get on with our lives. I would say to this professor ‘mind your own business pal and get yourself a proper job’.
“Yes there is a risk if you smoke but there is a risk every time you wake up and get out bed. We are all grown up and we can look after ourselves. We don’t need a nanny state.”
Over to the anti-tobacco Jane Roberts to respond. “I would agree people are old enough to make their own decisions if they were making those decisions based on good and useful information. But they’re not,” she said.
“They are still completely unaware of just how harmful cigarettes are.”
Coun Ivan Taylor, chair of the Blackpool’s Health and Well Being Board, sings from the same hymn sheet and says a licence is worth looking at.
“We already have a whole range of initiatives on the go and if this is another idea then we will look at it,” he said. “Tobacco abuse is one of our top concerns. I know the argument about individual liberty but other people have rights too.
“Everything we do as a group is aimed at the same thing - to get people to stop smoking.”
Whether a licence is one day required to buy cigarettes remains to be seen.
What is certain is that the argument about the rights and wrongs of smoking will continue to rage for many years to come.