I’m absolutely fuming about smoking hypocrisy
Out of nowhere, my friend Robyn contracted pneumonia this week and ended up in hospital, gasping for breath and coughing her lungs up. It was a scary sight, seeing this dynamic, strong chick totally debilitated and struggling for oxygen.
“Anyone who’s thinking about taking up smoking should get a little dose of pneumonia,” she said with a wheeze. “I can’t believe anyone would voluntarily do this to their bodies by sucking on cigarettes.”
I toyed with fags at about 16. It was glamour that got me in: the silky silver packaging and swirling royal blue font of the Stirling Special Mild brand. Most of my friends were into it too. My, how we thought we looked urbane and adult – maybe even old enough to buy drinks at the bar of the local Curramulka Hotel.
The God of Fresh Air was kind to me, though. The luscious look of the packaging wasn’t quite matched by the trashy taste of the cancer sticks inside, so naive teenage flirting never developed into full-strength, ugly addiction.
Others aren’t so lucky. What starts with a few excited puffs turns into a lifetime of wretched reliance – not to mention cancer or emphysema or gangrene – for more than 2.8 million Australians.
On that note, I wonder how many bosses of the multinational tobacco companies actually smoke. And I wonder whether they should be OBLIGED to smoke (heavily) in order to sell the products they peddle, given the World Health Organisation’s claim that tobacco kills up to half the people who use it?
But here we are, with those same bosses threatening a High Court challenge against Australia’s world-first plain cigarette packaging legislation that passed through the Senate on Thursday.
The new laws, set to be rubber stamped by the Lower House in the next couple of weeks, will come into effect in December 2012 and require all cigarettes to be sold in drab olive-green packets.
Cigarette companies like British American Tobacco Australia aren’t best pleased. For starters, they say the move is a waste of time and won’t deter smokers.
Why then, do companies invest multimillions on global marketing? And why are they so keen to crush plain packaging?
A report released in May by Quit Victoria and Cancer Council Victoria shows that branding, colouring and imagery specifically impacts how we feel about the quality and safety of cigarettes.
In a UK study, for example, 53 per cent of smokers regarded the Marlboro gold label as a lower health risk than Marlboro red, and 31 per cent thought they’d be easier to quit. Apparently, many smokers also believe their gold, silver, blue and purple brands are safer than red or black brands.
But wait, say tobacco companies. Legitimate small businesses will miss out as Australians turn to illegal, smuggled brands.
Well, perhaps the cash we save on keeping people alive with ventilators and chemotherapy can be used to curb the illicit tobacco trade – which accounts for just 1.5 per cent of regular smokers at any rate, according to the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey Report.
In their most compelling argument, tobacco companies say plain packaging breaches international trade agreements and threatens their intellectual property rights, without adequate compensation. And who can blame them for pushing this line, when countries across the globe are so closely watching this historic legislation with a view to possibly following suit.
Australian legal experts, however, say any High Court challenge is likely to fail because international agreements DO allow governments to restrict the use of trademarks when it comes to protecting public health.
And there can be absolutely no doubt that public health (not to mention the public purse) does suffer to line the pockets of these global tobacco giants. Although the rate of smoking in Australia has halved since I had a crack in the 1980s, it still costs the country nearly $32 billion annually and kills around 15,000 Australians every year.
To anyone who says Australia is turning into a nanny state that restricts the right of the individual, I say put that $32 billion in your pipe and smoke it.
In fact, let’s make those tobacco company bosses smoke it, too.
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