Sunday, 2 December 2012

Pat on the back for the Aussies and their anti-smoking initiative

Australia and Australians are a bit like marmite or republicans – you either love ‘em or hate ‘em. I am firmly in the middle – admiring their weather, their positive attitude, their sportsmen and their wide open spaces but not so keen on the fact that my step daughter has been lured to sunnier climes and now resides in Brisbane.

But this weekend I salute the Australian government and their health ministry in sticking to their guns with their anti-smoking strategy. Australia is the first country to make it compulsory, by law, to sell cigarettes in plain packaging. Except it’s not actually plain packaging – the lethal drugs are now being sold in packs emblazoned with gory pictures representing the various diseases caused by smoking. A supermarket’s cigarette cabinet down under now looks like the horror section of a DVD rental store. Manufacturers have no choice but to place these graphic images on their merchandise and they have no choice of colour for their packs either – they must be green. The only nod to brand is the ‘brand variant’ being listed in small print at the bottom of the front of the pack.

Will this work and should a country seek to restrict industry in this way? In my opinion the answer to both is yes.

The tobacco industry is vehemently against this initiative, saying that it won’t work and will increase tobacco smuggling, forcing them to decrease their prices in order to be more competitive, hence leading to increased smoking. Mmm – a rather tenuous argument methinks. Of course they are against this move because it is bound to have a detrimental effect on the glamour associated with smoking by the young. Maybe there is an odd approach to smoking in Australia. My step daughter has told me how surprised she is that many of her peers, mainly young(ish) housewives smoke – usually in secret – to the extent that they wear rubber gloves when they nip outside for a quick fag so there will be no tell-tale marks on their fingers – bizarre!

I suspect that the immortal youth who already smoke will mentally distance themselves from the upsetting images on the packs, believing that such health nightmares could not happen to them. But maybe the horror pics will stop the next generation from starting in the first place – it’s got to be worth a try.

The pictures on packs in the UK do have some effect – a young friend of mine who used to smoke said he was tempted to ask for a pack not by brand but instead he would try to pick the pack with the least upsetting picture! I wonder in the future whether Australian smokers will ask for ‘the pack with the rotting teeth and ulcerated mouth’ rather than ‘the one showing a young women in an oxygen mask’.

It will be very, very interesting to see if this bold move makes any difference in the number of cigarette packs sold in Australia, and hopefully a long term study will prove that this has gone some way in reducing the number of smokers in the next generation. If this does work, and Australia reach the targeted reduction in smokers from 16% of the population in 2007 to less than 10% by 2018, then here in the UK we should take note of hard evidence and follow their lead.

And to the pro-smoking lobby and accusers of a ‘nanny state’ regime I have one thing to say – carry on smoking if you must, but don’t expect anyone to make it easy for your peers, or more importantly your children, to take up this lethal habit.



Rob Dickman said... an enjoyer of the very occasional small cigar(!), I'm not sure where I stand on this. Instinctively, I'm against the "nanny state" regime because for me, that's not what Government should be about. Plus such interventions usually have the opposite effect because people don't like having their lives micro-managed in this way.

That said, our pubs, public transport and public places are much more enjoyable for the smoking ban.

Ultimately, I don't see this happening here. The smuggling angle (and the resources it will take to police) will be a real concern and I also think that the tobacco industry must have a fairly solid case on the application of EU Competition Law (which is supposed to curb anti-competitive behaviours by Member States, not encourage them!).

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