I happen to live in the centre of the French tobacco growing district, so I am not over bothered by the holier than thou brigade making everyone’s life a misery. Yes, we are bound by the EU non-smoking in public places directive, but there is barely a cafe worth its name round here that hasn’t arranged a congenial place where you can have a cigarette in peace.
One of the most popular cafes, in the tourist spot par excellence overlooking the Dordogne, has actually moved its comfortable sofas outside, and taken the hard chairs indoors, once they realised that most of their customers were sitting outside – you can do that sort of thing when God has fitted a lid on the place where you live. Not for us the howling North -East wind infiltrating your bones as you stand in the meagre shelter of the corner of a rain swept street, sheltering your soggy cigarette with ice cold hands.
Allegedly the French puffed their way through 55bn worth of ciggies last year. I say allegedly, because we sold 55bn worth of ciggies, but we didn’t necessarily smoke them – it is rumoured that white vans still arrive at Calais to fill their boots with cartons of cigarettes – purely for their own consumption you understand – with monotonous regularity.
I hate to think how many cigarettes the Andorrans are credited with smoking, for the road into that tax-free haven is three deep in vast tobacco warehouses, selling most brands at 20 euros a carton. The population of Andorra is small (the true population even smaller, since most apartments are owned by people who only technically live there for tax reasons) so the few you see out and about on the streets must have a nicotine addiction second to none.
Irun on the Spanish border is exactly the same, a shanty town of tobacco warehouses, selling duty paid cigarettes this time, perfectly legal, at 30 euros a carton. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. The people of Irun must have lungs like a pickled walnut, but they look remarkably healthy as it happens.
Since the British government has had such a remarkable success at persuading the British people to stop smoking (so they say) – what was it – 10% less last year, and they are aiming to halve the figure in five years – you might wonder why the Tobacco companies are so bullish.
It can’t just be the fortune they have saved on advertising – why advertise when the government talks of nothing else but your product? Nor the fortune they are due to save on research and development costs regarding packaging – why spend on that when the government is determined to level the playing field and force all your competitors into identical packets?
Could it be the recession, the knowledge that whatever the government says, a glass of whisky and a fag has become the grown up equivalent to listening to Radio Luxembourg under your bedclothes when the grown-ups think you have gone to sleeep. Perhaps it is the recent decision to make all the alternatives only available in a pharmacy – during the day? (Obo was right, Leg-Iron did go up in smoke!)
Who knows, but the Telegraph has gone decidedly off message and is recommending Imperial Tobacco shares as a safe haven in these deflationary times.
While not an investment for the more ethically-minded, tobacco is a fantastic business to be in. Even a recession cannot dampen smokers’ desire to inhale – because they are addicted.
Moody’s have upgraded their status, and the Telegraph is recommending you buy.
Free advertising, slashed display and packaging costs, the Tobacco Barons must be laughing their socks off at Andy Burnham.