imperial tobacco sliding door

It can’t be easy crafting jokes about tobacco. Smoking is, after all, linked to the deaths of about 100,000 people in the UK each year; the addicted exiled to makeshift sheds in office car parks, and stores forced to hide displays behind sliding doors.

All credit then to comedian Simon Evans for taking on the challenge in Simon Evans Goes to Market (Radio 4, 6.30pm, July 15) in which he tackled the economics behind “morally tainted” tobacco.

Because for all its foibles, there’s little doubt tobacco has made a sound investment over the past century. A single stock in 1900 could be worth as much as £6m today, Evans revealed.

Not to mention its contribution to the public coffers. A report commissioned by the Czech Republic apparently found it saved their government £103m in 1999, thanks to killing off the addicted “cheaply” via heart attacks before they required pensions, nursing care, and prolonged medical treatment.

And then there’s the social confidence of which smokers brag, ably demonstrated by show sidekick Andy as he ventured out for his first-ever fag, only to score a new friend.

All of which led Evans to question the intolerance to the commodity. Taken without a pinch of salt, this would surely outrage Radio 4’s politically correct audience but Evans added plenty of irony, and key stats on smoking.

Clever to a tee, the comedian may not quite have had his listeners rolling in the aisles, but a few chuckles here and there are no small feat when your comedy hook is “a record-breaking killer”.