A Guest Post from regular commenter Bunswalla:
The Case for Plain Packaging of Tobacco
I’m not a reformed smoker; I’ve never smoked tobacco and I haven’t lost anyone close to me due to smoking-related illnesses. In general I resist being told how to live by the nanny state – or anyone, especially my sister, and I find state interference in legitimate commercial transactions repugnant.
However I support the government’s proposed legislation to enforce plain packaging of tobacco, and I’ll explain why.
Firstly, the legislation isn’t going to force anybody that chooses to smoke, to stop smoking. It isn’t going to prevent them from choosing the tobacco product and brand of their choice. It doesn’t infringe on the personal rights of any person to continue enjoying what they’ve been doing. Ask for 25 Holiday and that’s what you’ll get.
It doesn’t even prevent people that are legally able to purchase tobacco to buy it and start smoking if that’s what they want to do. So the “nanny state” argument doesn’t stand up.
Secondly, while selling tobacco and related products is a legal commercial transaction (subject to the laws around age, advertising, display etc), I challenge its legitimacy. Cigarettes contain a cocktail of more than 200 chemicals, mostly designed to physically addict you to smoking, as well as making sure they burn evenly and don’t go out while you’re not watching (makes you go through them quicker, and hopefully buy some more).
The chemicals in cigarettes, and the smoke created when you burn them, are highly toxic and injurious to your health. There are no redeeming characteristics or benefits from smoking – other than to satisfy a physical craving created by your prior use. What’s more, smoking shortens your lifespan – even Big Tobacco, which fought for decades to avoid admitting that inescapable fact, have reluctantly acknowledged that they peddle death. Their website says “We agree that smoking is harmful.” What they don’t say is “we need you to keep doing it anyway.”
If a corporation tried to introduce a new product called cigarettes today, assuming it had never been practiced, and knowing what we know about the contents of cigarettes and the effects of smoking them, they would never be allowed. The influence and financial clout of Big Tobacco around the world makes it unlikely that any government would ban the practice now, but I believe our government is morally and ethically obliged to do whatever it can to dissuade the public from taking up this toxic habit. I realise morals and ethics don’t always figure highly in government motives, but I live in hope.
Let’s look at the arguments Big Tobacco is putting up to try and get public opinion on their side:
- The “it won’t work, people will still smoke so don’t bother” argument. Well, the fact that they’re investing so much in trying to prevent this shows that it’s likely to be successful in dissuading new smokers from starting. If people are still going to smoke anyway, then this should be the best thing to ever happen to the industry. They can stop spending the 10s of millions they spend each year on marketing and promotion, and trying to find ways around the existing legislation, save millions on fancy packaging, and start making super profits.
- The “it’s not fair” argument. We created it (the huge marketing and branding juggernaut designed to feed new customers in to the market at a rate the same or faster than their dying customers are leaving it), so we should own it. Well boo-fucking-hoo, Big Tobacco. What you created was a machine designed to firstly lure, and then trap, new (young) customers into a lifetime of addiction, often followed by a slow lingering death. You have no rights to continue to profit from an instrument of death and disease, just because you built it. There are plenty of businesses around NZ that have had their business model turned on its head by the stroke of a politician’s pen, so suck it up.
- The “plain packs would make it easier to counterfeit” argument. Again, tough titties. You’re not worried about the health impacts to your gasping customers; you’re just worried that someone else will make the profits that you believe are rightfully yours.
- The “infringing on people’s right to choose which brand to smoke” argument. Again, nothing more than a smokescreen. People will still be able to ask for, purchase and consume, all the brands that currently exist. They just won’t be in shiny packaging, that’s all.
- The “we have invested in our brands over many years and have a responsibility to our shareholders to do everything we can to defend our rights to use them” argument. Yes, now we’re getting closer to it aren’t we, vultures? This argument and the ones above are all about the profit you’re worried you might lose because fewer people may be inclined to start using your noxious addictive products, and you might not make so much money. Perhaps your shareholders should have chosen a safer bet than to invest in a (literally) dying industry, and hopefully they’ll exit your businesses as fast as they can and put their money into something more ethical – such as blood diamonds or Chinese sweatshops.
- The final canard: the “this is the thin end of the wedge – just think what products will be forced to use plain packaging if this succeeds” argument. A total red herring, in the same way that people argue if gay marriage is legalised, soon everyone will want to marry their pet, their son or their toaster. Alcohol (as a legalised drug) is the product most often quoted as next cab off the rank if the nanny state has its way. It will never happen, and nor should it. Alcohol – while not minimising the harm that irresponsible and excessive use can and does cause – performs an important role as a social lubricant and has a number of recognised health benefits, when taken in moderation. Tobacco has NO recognised health benefits and is harmful taken in any quantity.
I’ve given a lot of thought to reconciling my general principles described above with the undoubted benefits to society of fewer new smokers taking up this vile and toxic habit. No doubt there will be many on this blog that think my position wowserish and that freedom of choice should be paramount. I’m a firm believer in freedom of choice but there are reasons why P and other addictive drugs are treated so much more seriously than smoking a bit of pot or dropping some E. Cigarettes are purely a nicotine delivery system and nicotine as a drug is almost as chemically addicting as the varieties of meth and heroin out there.
We should do everything we can to help young people avoid becoming addicted to smoking.