You might recall that some weeks ago the journalist Yael Ossowski went toe-to-toe with the plain packaging brigade in South African publication BizNews. In a bizarre set of circumstances, first BizNews journalist Chris Bateman added an amendment to Ossowski’s article, essentially denouncing it, before a follow up by Yussuf Saloojee, director of the South African National Council Against Smoking, was given carte blanche to spout misinformation on the data surrounding the effectiveness of plain packaging in Australia, whilst accusing Ossowski of having done the same.

Following so far? Good, because now, a few months on, another journalist, Martin Van Staden, has weighed in on the issue of plain packaging. Van Staden clearly sides with Ossowski, whilst pursuing a slightly different argument; not whether plain packaging is effective, but rather, whether it is morally defensible, if it takes away the ability of people to act for themselves.

Van Staden is clear in his reasoning: ‘Freedom means making choices that may be deemed ‘bad’ by others’. if one is unable to do so, one is not free, and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise. He cites the example of plain packaging for cigarettes as an example of the state trampling all over the freedom of the individual to make his own decisions, and if necessary, his own mistakes. This, Van Staden warns, is part of an ‘open-ended mandate’ the state believes it has to keep people ‘healthy’; once it feels it has the mandate, there is, theoretically, no end to the lengths it will go to in order to preserve health, even if that means bypassing free will and the dignity and autonomy of the citizen.

Where will this end, if cigarettes are fair game? Will car manufacturers have to depict crashes on the sides of their new models? will alcohol be kept in shops behind screens, to deflect the attention of would be drinkers? ‘If an individual does not have the freedom to make bad choices,’ claims the author, ‘then he has neither freedom nor choice.’

Never a truer word written. Sadly, one fears, for the health fanatics of Western governments, that may very well be the aim.

by Edward Baer