Finally, 20 years after Cancer Council Australia first recommended plain packaging on the basis of evidence that branded packaging influences smoking take-up, its time has come. From tomorrow, all tobacco retailers in Australia will be required by law to sell only tobacco products in plain packaging.
What a great day for public health.
Some readers will disagree. Not the majority – surveys show most Australians support plain packaging. But having written on this topic before, I expect criticism from sceptics, anti-“nanny state” crusaders and tobacco industry trolls masquerading as both. So let’s pre-empt the arguments against plain packaging with some facts.
1) Plain packaging won’t work.
Why then have tobacco companies thrown tens of millions of dollars at stopping plain packaging, in the small Australian market alone?
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Smoking is bad. Big tobacco is evil. These truisms are as entwined as pies and sauce. Therefore, the plain packaging of cigarette packets must be a progressive step, given tobacco companies have spent tens of millions of dollars fighting the idea. Yesterday, the High Court made such legislation binding.
Even smokers might gloat at the idea of tobacco companies being flogged in a courtroom. And Australia, once again, gets a gold medal for showing the world how it should be done, which is a step up at least from some of ourl male swimmers.
It was a “victory for all families who had lost someone to a tobacco-related disease” said a Gillard Government press release. It was “a relief for every parent”. “For anyone who has ever lost someone, this is for you.” Cigarettes, it seemed, have been reinvented.
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Today is World No Tobacco Day, observed each year on 31 May to help reduce a global tobacco death toll that will hit 5 million in 2012 and 8 million by 2030. Four in five of these deaths will occur in developing countries where many of those affected will die in agony because they can’t access morphine.
If you are ambivalent about these incomprehensible numbers because you think smoking is a choice, please read on.
Progress on proven measures to encourage people to choose not to smoke has been invariably blocked in ways that would not stymie low-cost steps to improve other areas of global health. Why? Smoking kills, but unlike comparable causes of death such as dysentery or malaria, it also makes billions of dollars for ruthless multinational companies.
Two words that I always find amusing when used in the same sentence are “smokers” and “rights”.
This week’s announcement by the NSW Minister for Health of the ban on smoking in playgrounds, public transport stops, swimming pools, entrances to public buildings and sports grounds has ignited passions and lungs.
One such reader was all fired up in response to a news.com.au story.
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The Federal Government has recently attacked British American Tobacco for using the image of a Kangaroo on its cigarette packages overseas. Attorney-General Nicola Roxon labelled it as “un-Australian” and demanded that the tobacco companies “get [their] hands off our icon”.
The government is indignant and says that the sale of cigarettes has nothing to do with Australia. Unfortunately that is not entirely true.
Almost $150 million of Australian tax dollars are currently invested in tobacco companies like Phillip Morris and British American Tobacco through the Future Fund.
What is the cigarette plain packaging legislation?
From July 2012 the Australian Government plans to prohibit all brand logos, fonts, colours and promotional wording on cigarette packaging. Cigarettes will come in olive green boxes displaying prominent safety warnings and the name of the brand and variant printed in standard size, font and position.
Why is Labor taking on Big Tobacco?
They are the only target left that is less popular than Julia Gillard.
Does plain packaging infringe on freedom of choice?
Studies have shown most smokers cannot distinguish between brands in blind trials and the perceived differences are often an artefact of subtle cues in the colour, logos and design on the packaging. Nevertheless, tobacco companies spend millions of dollars perfecting the positive associations evoked by cigarette packaging and consumers have a right to have their free choices subconsciously influenced by them.
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In the gruesome final scene of Martin Scorcese’s remake of Cape Fear, the sadistic murderer Max Cady has been bashed with a plank, burned with lighter fluid, thrown off the side of a houseboat and is finally drowning in a river. As he sinks into the water he starts speaking in tongues, struggling to keep his mouth above the waterline as he shouts random free-form gibberish before finally drowning.
I was reminded of this scene while listening to a woman from a cigarette company on the radio this week as she put forward the tobacco industry’s arguments, if you can call them that, against plain packaging.
Despite having a long-standing fondness for the gaspers, and a firm belief that adults should be free to do whatever they like, I don’t ever think I have heard such nonsense in my life. This industry, which in essence is in the death business, is itself in its death throes. As it sinks further into the abyss it is thrashing about spouting nonsense in defence of its right to sell demonstrably deadly products.
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Plug the word nanny into the website of free market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), and you would be forgiven for thinking that they were an au pair agency.
No less than 190 opinion pieces, articles, press releases and reports use the word. IPA’s nanny obsession reaches fever pitch in 2011, with IPA spokesmen Tim Wilson and Chris Berg whipping off articles condemning the nanny state quicker than you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
And now Big Tobacco has jumped on the nanny state bandwagon with the launch of its plain packaging attack campaign NoNannyState.
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The tobacco industry’s campaign against plain packaging is at last a cause worthy enough for me to believe in.
As a smoker myself it is very important to me that if I am going to be killed slowly it should at least be by someone I know and trust. Indeed, it does not reflect well on the euthanasia lobby that it is strangely silent on this particular aspect of dying with dignity.
Fundamentally this is a debate about choosing the manner of your own death. Some people choose to hurl themselves off the Gap, Ben Elton chooses to do it on live television and smokers choose to do it by gradually annihilating their lungs.
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The latest move by the Federal Government to make smoking a habit of the past is the latest salvo in the rapid expansion of the nanny state.
Recently the Health Minister Nicola Roxon re‑announced the government’s intention to force tobacco companies to adopt plain packaging for all cigarette brands.
From next year, smokers will be greeted with a standard olive‑green packet emblazoned with graphic health warnings screaming that “every cigarette is doing you damage”.
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Smokers. The unthinkable may become a disagreeable reality. Smoking may be banned in private homes and apartments.
Scoff if you like about improbability of home smoking bans. How they would not only be unfair but unenforceable. Dismiss the concept as ridiculous.
Huff and puff about civil liberties, individual freedom of choice and the home being the family castle. Thump the table about government interference and intervention. About the spidery intrusion of the nanny state. But ignore the looming reality at your peril. The smokers’ nagging fear, that their final bastion will be invaded by smoke police, is already here.
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In yet another example of nanny-state politics, South Australia is cracking down on the fags. Cracking down harder, that is. So’s Canberra, and plenty of other places.
Not content with banning them to the point where smokers congregate on city corners like snappily dressed prostitutes (as one punter is rumoured to have observed) now they want to outlaw smoking in all areas of pubs, clubs, cafes, playgrounds, covered taxi stands and bus shelters - and ultimately anywhere outside the home.
Smoking is bad for you - no one doubts that. But the effectiveness of such uber-regulation is being questioned, and freethinkers Australia-wide are wondering - where will it stop? There’s a divergence of opinions on the measure - here, for the record, are our thoughts…
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Every cigarette might be doing you damage but over the past few years it hasn’t been hurting Treasury. Smoking was already a ludicrously expensive pursuit by world standards in this country before the straight-laced uber-nerd Kevin Rudd and his nanny-in-chief Nicola Roxon were elected at the end of 2007.
By the beginning of last year, barely two years into Rudd’s brief and clean-living reign as prime minister, the price of a packet of smokes had jumped by more than one-third, with a one-off 25 per cent increase last February adding another $2.16 to a packet of 30 cigarettes.
Smokers fume, splutter and wheeze indignantly about this price-gouging and in my darker moments at the 7-11 as I empty the ATM to fuel my habit, I’ve often found myself among their number. No-one else cares of course. When it comes to public sympathy, smokers are on a hiding to nothing asking for understanding.
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My dad was a pack a day smoker of Marlboro Reds, he died of cancer in 1996. This is a picture of my three brothers and I carrying him into the funeral service in his coffin.
If you look carefully you will notice the coffin is painted as a carton of cigarettes, Marlboro Reds to be exact (it was painted on my dad’s request by my talented sister Tania Ferrier).
Dad loved his smokes and didn’t appreciate anyone saying he couldn’t smoke. In fact, just before dad died he asked me to give his eulogy and remind everyone that he wanted to be cremated so he ‘could light up one last time’. He was a relatively conservative chap - but one with a wicked sense of humour, and I guess a fierce sense of brand loyalty.
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Much has been said and written about the wisdom of Kevin Rudd’s glistening mega-slug on the apparent evil that is tobacco.
As a parent, it does seem sad that a future generation of child smokers will now be priced out of the market. And while the jury might still be out on the links between smoking and illness, the Government has clearly thrown its lot in with the “it certainly appears to be quite dangerous” crowd.
I have no background in medicine so I will leave this part of the debate to others. But I do know this – I just paid $17.50 for a packet of Marlboro Reds, and no, you can’t have one of them.
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Updated 3.35pm: Every State Government will have to agree to a total ban on smoking within 50 years under a policy proposal from Labor’s youth wing ahead of next week’s national ALP conference.
The Punch understands Young Labor will announce the policy within the next few days, and has it listed for debate at its conference this weekend. However the policy will not be presented to the party’s national conference in Sydney next week for debate.
Under the plan, smoking would not only be banned everywhere in Australia, but the sale of cigarettes and cultivation of tobacco would also be declared illegal.
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IT has become so hard to be a smoker. At a recent wedding I was the only person nipping outside during the bad songs for a quick gasper, and I’m sure the smell of tobacco was following me around the room. Lately I’ve noticed security guards starting to move us on when lighting up outside certain buildings. The next logical step in this “ban creep” is for councils to outlaw smoking in public spaces such as parks and on footpaths. The only place you could smoke would be inside your own home - which would be the end of smoking for me, as there’s a ban there too.
Anti-smokers now believe a fresh round of punitive tax increases could wean a million Australians off the cancer sticks. The price of some packs would be headed for around $20. This is exasperating. If everybody knows the dangers and costs, as the latest unnecessarily revolting ad campaign says, why is this state-sponsored suicide still legal at all? Why don’t we just outlaw cigarettes?
This graph, in its unedited form, shows the relationship between consumption of tobacco and the price of a pack. It demonstrates that price rises work, but I’ve added in what I believe to be an additional force on consumption - the dramatic fall in the social acceptability of smoking that began in the 80s and has more recently fallen like a ciggie butt to the footpath.
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