Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Instituting and then reversing a ban on tobacco products shows masterful statecraft. Well, it would have if it had been planned, and if the reversal hadn’t been reversed.

Take all these things away from people — their freedom, their income, their alcohol and their cigarettes — then, after a few days, relent and tell them they can have their smokes back.

The smoking population will forevermore be pathetically grateful to the great, magnanimous, benevolent state benefactor. And they won’t mind so much about the other things.

The first question was whether the government, in thinking about repealing the ban, was trying to appease Big Tobacco, in the same way that any sitting US president is pretty much a shill for Big Oil and Big Banks. Probably not.

The bigger issue is being locked down with a smoker who has run out of smokes. That way lies civil disobedience on an epic scale.

It’s one thing to tell rational people that their continued good health depends on them staying indoors and out of what we used to call society.

It’s altogether another telling this to a nicotine addict. Heavy smokers might feel that they have nothing to lose.

If nothing else, the 21-day cigarette ban could provide useful anecdotal data to researchers looking at the illegal trade in drugs, rhino horn and perlemoen.

Bans rarely work, as the US learnt to its great cost during Prohibition.