Smoking UK
Many are calling for the government to force tobacco firms into plain packaging of cigarettes (Reuters)

Having seen pictures of David Cameron and George Osborne's flabby flaps of skin rippling like flags in the wind when they go out jogging, it is difficult to take the government seriously on any declarations about public health.

But it isn't frontbench manatees like Eric Pickles who have got me questioning the state's role in public health, it is the debate about plain packaging for cigarettes, which the UK government has delayed introducing until a trial in Australia concludes.

I do not particularly care about the interests of tobacco companies. It is hard to take counsel from predatory firms that groom poor African children to become hooked on their particular brand of lung foggers. Yet I find myself on their side of the fence when it comes to plain packaging for fags.

In my view, there is a balance the Government must find between information and individual choice for consumers. Having the state snatch things out of your hand like an impatient parent goes too far one way. Allowing corporate advertisers a free rein with marketing goes too far in the other direction.

Informed individual choice should be the ideal. The context in which we make those choices over what we eat or drink, or whether we smoke, is the most important part. The decision we make, as long as we have had access to enough information, is irrelevant to the state.

The role of government is not necessarily to enforce good public health. It is to regulate markets and businesses in such a way that they cannot lie to consumers about their products and the health benefits or risks associated with them.

It is to provide the public with accurate, impartial information, so people can be educated consumers. It should offer a national health system that underpins our freedom to eat, drink and smoke what we like.

Some people say that smokers, who are the cause of their own health problems, should pay extra for draining NHS resources.

No. The NHS should be there to allow us to do as we please with our health. It is a protection of our freedom to take health risks for personal pleasure. We pay for it, after all.

Smoking kills. Drinking booze kills. Eating too much nonsense and not doing enough exercise will dig you an early grave.

Yet we all do these things. Some of us enjoy swallowing smog, some of us enjoy dissolving our livers, and some of us enjoy a regular dose of fried chicken. Do we ban drinking alcohol in public? Shall we outlaw fried foods within a two-mile radius of young children, lest they replace their dummies with chicken wings?

Marketing - propaganda, to call it by its real name - can influence decision making and it is quite rightly regulated, but where does the idea of plain packaging stop?

There is little or no nutritional value in chocolate bars. Many people eat too many chocolate bars. Ergo, plain packaging would nobble the impact of chocolate bar marketing, resulting in fewer people buying them.

Except, that would be ludicrous. People understand when they buy chocolate bars that they are not eating an apple. They know, because we live in a society that provides information and education on this, that it is an unhealthy snack. We do not buy chocolate bars because we think it is a healthy snack. We buy them because we like the taste and are aware of the consequences of gobbling too much.

Empowering consumers to make their own choices should be at the heart of the government's public health strategy. Does plain packaging offer any meaningful power to a consumer that they don't already have? I don't think so.

Shane Croucher is a business reporter at IBTimes UK.