BY NICK MONFRIES
Last week fellow TAFE student, punk rock fan and also-Nick, Nick Cavarretta, wrote a piece about the Australian Federal Government passing a law that dictates that all cigarette packets sold in Australia must now be sold in plain khaki coloured packaging, with makers’ logos and type shown only in a standard font and standard size. It’s a good article, you should read it. Someone at the BBC did, and asked Nick to appear on the radio with them.
This plain packaging legislation follows previous attempts to curtail the Big Tobacco* companies (*mainstream media capitals B and T, not mine) ability to market their goods effectively. There are bans on sport sponsorship and print marketing, and smoking in indoor and outdoor drinking areas at pubs and clubs is now illegal.
I have my own two cents to throw in regarding the latest Government intervention.
Anyone with half a brain and the ability to comprehend visual images is by now aware of a couple of things when it comes to smoking. First: it’s bad for you. Shocking I know but it’s the truth, I promise. It’s bad for the people around you too. Again, shocking but true.
The Federal Government has been working hard on anti-tobacco strategies. They have hit tobacco companies repeatedly with stricter legislation and higher taxes. Packets of 30 cigarettes now cost almost $20. And now we have this latest initiative.
I’m torn on what to think about it all. Smoking is a health issue highly prioritised in this country. And we all know the health implications. But this policy seems designed to stop young people from smoking because the packets are “ugly”. As if kids start smoking because the packets are awesome, and not because cigarettes are highly addictive and illegal for anyone under 18 to buy (“Take THAT Mum! I’ll smoke if I want to!”) Despite the science and surveys (which I bet aren’t conducted by anti-smoking campaign groups, or anyone with an interest with getting smoking banned altogether) I have my doubts about how effective plain packaging will be. If the image of a woman with mouth cancers isn’t going to stop a kid from wanting to stick a poop-stick in his mouth, is a brown packet? I smoked only sporadically during high school, probably smoking a total of five ciggies in three years, but I sure as hell didn’t do it because the packets looked “cool”. I did it because my friends did it. And if I spoke to them, I’d reckon that they didn’t smoke because the packets looked cool, either. I’d even go so far as to say I know exactly why they smoked. It was because parents did, or because friends did. It was peer group pressure, or inspired by a figure worthy of some respect puffing on coffin-nails.
So will the plain packaging have an effect? Will it stop younger people from picking up a deadly habit? I think the only way to stop smoking would be a total ban, an idea I’m not really comfortable with. If someone wants to dig themselves an early grave by puffing away, I don’t want to stop them. We are lucky to live in a country that (nominally) allows you to live your life as you wish. It’s a choice people make, and although I feel that choice may be boneheaded or selfish, I respect their right to make it. On top of that, I can only imagine the nightmare scenario of black market and smuggled cigarettes becoming some kind of hot-button political issue one day. (Prohibition anyone? Ask the US how that worked out.)
We may soon have a fantastic case for the overall banning of cigarettes in Australia, however. Tasmania’s Independent Upper House, the Legislative Council, has proposed a ban on cigarette sales to anyone born after the year 2000. The proposal will now be looked at by the Tasmanian State Government.
It’s a radical suggestion to say the least. Again I’m not totally on board with a blanket ban, but if a ban is the only way to go, this is the one I see working best. The proposal has a significant lead-in time which would allow better education of the post-2000 crowd and plenty of time to placate the folks sure to be riled up by the idea. On the downside, I can see tobacco becoming like pot, with the cops conducting raids on plantations stashed in the middle of state forests.
There just doesn’t feel like there is an answer that is going to be perfect for all the affected parties. So should we go with the solution that leaves the least amount of people put out?
In the end we will wait and see. While I’m waiting, have you got a light?