This morning I was on Five Live with Chapman to discuss the suggestion. You can listen to it from 24 minutes in here.
This particular proposal has been kicked into the long grass before and I don't expect things to be different this time. I wonder whether even Chapman takes it seriously. More likely, it is a tactical move to open an Overton window, moving the debate to such an extreme that slightly less extreme measures start to appear reasonable. Plain packaging is the biggest bee in Chapman's bonnet, of course. It his best chance of becoming a footnote in history, but only if other countries follow Australia's example. At the moment, that is looking shaky. Britain's plain packaging consultation received many more responses from those who oppose the idea than support it and it seems as if the same thing has happened in New Zealand.
In 2003, just as the campaign for the smoking ban was beginning in the UK, the Lancet published a well-publicised editorial that called for the total prohibition of cigarettes. The magazine cannot have expected this to be taken seriously, but it did perhaps make a ban on smoking in pubs seem less extreme. The smoking licence gimmick may serve the same function. On the other hand, it might just be that Chapman is at a loose end and needs to keep that grant money rolling in.
On the subject of plain packs, Chapman said during the Five Live interview that: "Quite a large proportion of smokers say 'yeah, bring it on. It'll probably help me quit.'" This is a guy who just cannot stop lying. Insofar as there is an evidence base, it indicates that both smokers and nonsmokers—but especially smokers—don't think plain packs will make any difference. As I wrote in my report about plain packaging earlier this year...
Indeed, most studies which involve direct questioning find that the majority of respondents expect plain packaging to have no effect on smoking prevalence and cigarette consumption. This includes ASH’s own “citizen’s jury” who were “sceptical that branding encouraged people to start smoking or to continue smoking and so did not believe that plain packaging would reduce the number of smokers significantly.”
Simple Simon's claim about the popularity of plain packs was made while he was constructing a bewildering fantasy in which smokers love higher cigarette prices and smoking bans. Simon Chapman—friend of the smoker. Who needs enemies?
Just remembered that as I was being dropped off at the studio, the taxi driver said to me: "Tell him where to stick his smoking licence." It's not a thorough survey of public opinion, but I suspect it's representative.