Until the 1980s there were around 10,000 specialist tobacconists in Britain. These were like Aladdin’s caves, not because of mythical glitzy packaging but because of choice.
Many smokers just stuck with major brands but these specialist tobacconists stocked a vast range. They even used to prepare and sell their own blends. So much of the best and most (locally) popular tobacco was in largely unmarked jars. Cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, rolling tobacco. Varieties from the Middle East, the Orient, America and Africa all contributed to the fragrant aroma that infused the whole shop.
By 1990 almost all of them were gone.
Three things put them out of business. Firstly, of course, the rabid anti-smoking lobbyists with their hatred and propaganda. Secondly, the big tobacco companies who took over all their smaller competitors and rather than adding the smaller brands to their own range, simply eliminated them to remove competition (and choice). Thirdly, the supermarkets which from around 1980 started undercutting the real tobacconists whilst only selling the most profitable brands. Brands that were almost indistinguishable from each other aside from the packaging and which were uniformly bland.
The big tobacco companies also moved to using expanded tobacco to reduce costs and began using additives such as ammonia to provide at least some semblance of taste.
My contention is that the big tobacco companies have been key players in this long march to prohibition. Particularly since the MSA. The global anti-smoking industry probably gained numerous major footholds in the tobacco companies, using entry-ism, principally at board level where they could be a major driving force.
Electronic Cigarettes and heat not burn devices in many ways represent the end game. The world’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris, openly boasts about its plan to eliminate tobacco altogether.
Meanwhile, unfortunately, a majority of smokers have been their own worst enemies by capitulating to this at every stage. Some of them even wax lyrical about e-cig vapour with its sickly (to my taste) sweet, artificial flavourings. Maybe they’ll love ‘heat not burn’ too (or even ‘scratch n sniff’). If these devices were additional choices there’d be no grounds for concern but many devotees actually adopt anti-smoking propaganda to support their preference and actively campaign against smoking.
It has taken decades to wreak such destruction and it is truly shocking that so few people have any inkling of what has been lost. The best way to explain this is probably by analogy with alcohol which is heading rapidly down the same path.
Consider the wide variety of wines, whiskies, brandies, vodkas, beers and ciders to name just a few. Imagine these being reduced to a few generic options. At first you’ll still get alcoholic drinks with a choice of wine, beer or whisky flavours. Then, diluted (expanded) alcohol would predominate through cost. Then the generic flavourings would be phased out and replaced by a single bland flavour. Vaguely reminiscent of the whisky, wine, beer (insert your personal preference here) of old. All of them at once that is.
A pretence of choice would remain in the form of branded packaging but this too would be banned in time.
In the final days of the alcohol industry, a substitute would be introduced. No pretence of the flavours of old but instead, artificial flavourings such as cherry, raspberry and mint. Wine cellars and the like, would have to be fumigated to eliminate any lingering aromas.
Ultimately, even this alcohol substitute would only be available on prescription. A system that would be phased out as the last of the sad addicts died.
At least that appears to be the prohibitionist’s plan.
But their predecessors of a hundred years ago overreached and their whole empire came crashing down. They were reduced to making grovelling public apologies to all for the harm they had caused. They were lucky that prosecutions did not follow that time.
This time, with any luck, the end of their long march will be in a court of law followed by a quick march to jail.
A video on the modern cigarette manufacturing process: