Issue 24 / 4 July 2011

THOSE do-good wowsers will stop at nothing in their never-ending quest to control our lives.

They’ve made us wear seatbelts and bike helmets, taken all the fun out of a good old bake in the sun and now they want to stop fast-food institutions from advertising to little children.

Fortunately, somebody is at last standing up to this political correctness gone mad.

If you want to join the fight, the website makes it easy for you to send a message to your local MP.

Provided, that is, you don’t mind having your opinions scripted for you by that well known defender of truth, justice and human rights — the tobacco industry.

The proposal to enforce plain packaging of tobacco products was always going to make big tobacco pull out all stops, though so far they’ve been struggling to gain much traction with the public.

A previous advertising campaign, allegedly instigated by small shopkeepers, was a shemozzle and it’s hard to imagine many people bought industry claims that lack of branding would actually increase smoking (apparently it would make things easier for counterfeiters or some such nonsense).

But this latest “Stop this Nanny State” push is based on loftier ideals — removing the brands from cigarette packets is apparently an attack on our most basic freedoms.

If we let them crack down on cigarettes, one ad suggests, the next thing will be beer. And that’s the end of civilisation as we know it.

This is an industry that has been honing its skills in misinformation for decades.

For a trip down memory lane, check out this 1994 video of America’s top seven tobacco bosses — nicknamed the Seven Dwarves — all swearing on oath before the US Congress that they do not believe nicotine is addictive.

It’d be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

With the rise of social media sites like YouTube and Facebook, Big Tobacco found new avenues to get its message out and, as I wrote last year, to get around advertising bans and promote its products directly to young people.

As all advertisers know, online marketing can deliver huge returns for a relatively small investment — if it’s clever enough.

Post something that’s entertaining or intriguing, perhaps a bit mysterious and, if you’re lucky, millions of people will forward it to their friends, giving your product a level of exposure that could never be achieved through conventional media.

My guess is that will be what the tobacco industry tries next in its last-ditch stand against plain packaging.

In fact, they may already be doing it. Billboards and online ads from an organisation calling itself the Australian Interior Authority were causing a lot of discussion in the cyber world last week.

What was this organisation from the future — its logo is dated 2021 — doing, issuing proclamations that public gatherings were banned and all pregnancies must be approved?

Maybe it’s just a clever marketing campaign for a new car, but I’m getting a whiff of cigarette smoke here.

What’s the bet that this is the tobacco industry warning us of the apocalyptic future we’ll face if we let the government get away with taking their brand names off cigarette packs?


Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based science and medicine writer.

Posted 4 July 2011

9 thoughts on “Jane McCredie: Defending freedom by stealth

  1. Mark says:

    Our family was shocked to learn that the Victorian Legal system (VCAT members)strongly validated a persons ‘right’ to smoke after they had lost mental capacity for their own decision-making. The smoking validation decisions were made despite large amounts of evidence submitted, including a letter from the involved person’s cardiologist. The Tribunal discounted the specialist’s viewpoint as the specialist “only knows about arteries” in favour of the involved person’s doctor (who gained their knowledge from the general knowledge pool against cigarette smoking). It seems that the ‘do-gooders’ are everywhere causing problems even when the system is designed to protect those unable to protect themselves. The involved person had ceased smoking due to smoking-related disease for 10 years prior to losing mental capacity, only to restart at the instigation of a carer/wife for her own reasons (? monetary).

  2. Bruni Brewin says:

    Some of what is being said here – yes… we are open for abuse, sure. But we are also open for abuse when we don’t deserve it and where we do have do-gooder’s putting legislation into place for everybody, where everybody misses out because of the few. And we do have the do-gooder’s not putting into place things that make sense we should put into place. For example: In the NYTimes 28th June there was an article by Adam Liptak; Justices Reject Ban on Violent Video Games for Children. The Supreme Court agreed with a federal court’s decision to throw out California’s ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, saying the law violated minors’ rights.
    We could be saying the same thing about advertising junk food to minors. Aren’t we violating minors rights in this instance? Personally, I believe that we have as many problems coming up with violence because we don’t ban film producers bringing out violent films.
    50 years ago my children had safe, harmless fun letting off fireworks in our back yard.
    They looked forward to it once a year. Due to a minority of people that violated that safety, my grandchildren can no longer have that same experience. Those same hoodlums still manage to get their fireworks from under the counter someplace, but my grand kids miss out. So sad and unwarranted.
    We have to be kidding ourselves that this ban on junk food during kids prime television will make much difference. Many parents today let their kids stay up till 10pm – are we going to ban advertising till after that time? Many parents are the very people that find it easier to buy junk food than cook a meal after a hard day at work. Should we ban junk food ads, full stop!
    No good validating one way or the other. One way is deciding we (who know better of course!) make the decisions what people can and cannot do – dictatorship approach, assuming people can’t make decisions for themselves. Or we don’t do anything as we don’t want to be seen as violating somebody’s right.
    Depends which side of the fence you sit on doesn’t it?

  3. Drjohn says:

    Yes, the disingenuous statements or outright lies by the tobacco industry and supposed independent lobbyists reminds me of the current campaign being fought by the denialists of anthropogenic global warming especially such organisations as the right-wing “think tank” the IPA.
    Unfortunately, transparency of funding and aims is lacking.
    On the big brother nanny state, I agree with Bruni above that taking away Cracker Night was a serious mistake and infringement of personal liberties.

  4. Richard says:

    My goodness Bruni, we are mixing up a lot of issues here! Fireworks injure hoodlums, for sure, but also a lot of non-hoodlum children and grandchildren (yes, even of good, law-abiding folk like us). Just because your children got away with it 50 years ago does not make it “safe, harmless fun”. Good grief! Anecdote versus evidence! Fireworks are explosives. In “safe” hands they can malfunction. “Fun” for you is torture for neighbours, dogs, and returned servicemen with PTSD. Unsupervised children are blinded and lose fingers/hands every year. Controlling supply (limiting to licensed professionals) does not eliminate the black market, but significantly reduces injuries to the well-meaning general public. I don’t think a childhood devoid of the experience of letting off explosives leads to any significant long term psychosocial harm. I am proof of that (whoops, sorry that is anecdotal, isn’t it?) Nanny state versus civil liberties? Not here. I think the greater good is served by letting your grandchildren and my children watch fireworks displays from a safe distance.

  5. Dullsvilleite says:

    This is not actually about smoking or health.It is about free speech. As Martin Neimoller said: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
    When government comes for any of us (even the tobacco industry) carrying out a lawful activity-be very afraid as you do NOT know who may be next.

  6. michael keane says:

    Unfortunately, the issue is somewhat more complex than the views expressed. The following is from a submission of mine to the Public consultation on plain packaging of tobacco products:
    Dear Sir/Madam,
    I am making the following submission in regards to the “Public consultation on plain packaging of tobacco products.”
    The following is a brief submission based on the ethical considerations of introducing plain packaging legislation. It is accepted that the introduction of this legislation is based on health considerations. In effect, therefore, this is a health intervention. Any health intervention must conform to modern principles of medical ethics, no matter how much it is thought that the intervention is beneficial for people.
    Within medical ethics, the principle of autonomy has established itself as the guiding principle for any health intervention. Plain packaging could be voluntary; people could choose whether to buy branded or plain packets of cigarettes. The fact that it will be mandatory means that, by definition, the legislation will intervene to compel people to adopt behaviour against their will. It is established, as discussed above, that this is a health intervention.
    There is a growing international literature regarding the ethics of public health interventions. The following is from Feiring (as quoted in the article ‘Public Health Interventions Need to Meet the Same Standards of Medical Ethics as Individual Health Interventions’). It summarizes the overall issue of public health interventions: “Given that respect for the autonomous choices of patients runs deep in modern healthcare, there are strong reasons to value the claim that competent and well-informed individuals are the best interpreters of their own interest and that they should be free to make choices others would regard as non-beneficial to them (Feiring 2008)”
    The article ‘Public Health Interventions Need to Meet the Same Standards of Medical Ethics as Individual Health Interventions’, summarizes the issues involved. Although written for a proposed ban on trans fats, the issues are relevant to the current proposal to force cigarettes to be sold in plain packages.
    The fact that tobacco products contribute to adverse health effects is not in dispute. It is likely that these health effects will be emphasized as part of the rationale for the current legislation. However, whether or not cigarettes cause health effects is not the issue. Is there sufficient justification to force a health intervention on someone against there will?
    It would be impossible to make the argument that people were not aware of the adverse health effects of tobacco products. It is unlikely that any other product that people consume has such a pervasive reputation for ill health as that of cigarettes. Certainly the onus would be on anyone proposing that people were not aware of the adverse health effects of cigarettes to demonstrate this. Of course, there
    may be small details that smokers are unaware of. But overall, when compared to the level of understanding accepted as reasonable for informed consent, smokers have sufficient knowledge to make an informed decision.
    No matter how much many people want to reduce smoking rates, and no matter how much they think that they are benefiting smokers (or potential smokers) this health intervention does not meet the standards of ethics accepted by the public. In order to justify this legislation it would need to be convincingly demonstrated that adult smokers do not have the capacity to understand the adverse effects of smoking.
    Many may be sympathetic to the argument that smoking is due to a nicotine addiction and people, therefore, can not make a voluntary decision. However, smoking is a voluntary behaviour. Of that there can be no doubt. All international psychiatric classifications come to the same agreement.
    I ask that the relevant bodies reviewing this legislation demonstrate that they have done a comprehensive survey of the growing international, peer-reviewed literature regarding the ethics of public health interventions.
    Like any health intervention, the onus is on those proposing a change to demonstrate that the likelihood of adverse and unforeseen consequences is low. There are consequences to usurping peoples’ autonomous right to make health decisions for themselves. Cumulatively, many such interventions may foster a community attitude of lack of personal responsibility. This in itself may have significant adverse societal effects.
    In summary, this proposed legislation does not meet the necessary requirements for usurping established principles in medical ethics and does not meet the requirement to usurp the established concept of freedom.

  7. Zoidberg says:

    @ Dullsvilleite
    Firstly, restrictions on marketing are not infringements of free speech. Your speech remains free, as you’ve demonstrated. Secondly, they haven’t “come for the tobacco industry” – they’re introducing a marketing restriction, not torturing tobacco employees in dark rooms. Marketing restrictions exist in all industries. The didn’t “come for the doctors” when they introduced restrictions on medical advertising.
    Your post is deliberately misleading, like most of the arguments from the tobacco industry in the last few decades. Now the only question is, who do you work for?

  8. Dr MathewJC says:

    Free speech belongs to people, not corporations. Humans are entitled to human rights, business entities are not.

  9. Richard Middleton says:

    @ Dullsvilleite.
    It staggers me how selling tobacco products is still in fact, legal. I can’t sell an unroadworthy car but it is just as able as tobacco, to kill me and others, maybe not as slowly, but just a surely.
    Clearly a loophole in the general thinking.
    What is fascinating is how the argument keeps changing.
    First of all, plain packets were an infringement on their corporate rights because of loss of their attractive designs and colours etc (Not REALLY selling an image, just spending millions making packets look pretty.. Yeah!) then it was going to be open season for cigarette smugglers who would be selling (I think this was how they put it) sub standard therefor ‘dangerous” cigarettes.
    Don’t know why they are so worried unless it is that all those little kids in Third World countries who they are getting addicted to cheap fags will get the message from us in the ‘advanced’ west.
    Selling stuff that causes death (short or long term) should be illegal.

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