Growing up you believe the world is meant to be the way it is. The older I get the more I realise that this is not the case. The world is full of injustices and atrocities that governments and the voice of faith expect us to accept, though with each passing year they grow fewer and fewer, at least one would hope. I have created this blog as a space for me to rant about all things science, politics, philosophy and religion, before it’s too late and the vessel of new atheism propelled by a growing surge in secularism solves all of the world’s problems for good.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A rant on plain packaging of cigarettes

I’m incredibly disappointed and concerned with New Scientist’s recent article on the plain packaging of cigarettes in Australia. It was written by Simon Chapman a Professor of Public Health at University of Sydney, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised with the bias, tone and position of the article.

First of all I’d just like to outline the fact that I am not pro-smoking in the least. I abhor it, and know a number of people who have died from horrific diseases resulting from their addiction to tobacco. However, I believe that the government shouldn’t be a ‘nanny state’; it has no right to control any voluntary risk taking behaviour that I or anyone else wish to partake in. If you’re allowed to sky dive knowing the risks of injury or death are somewhat increased, you should be allowed to do the same when it comes to tobacco or any other recreational drug on the proviso that it doesn’t impinge on the well-being of others.

It’s a slippery slope the Australian government is starting to venture down when it comes to bringing in legislation for plain packaging on cigarettes, for alco-pop taxes, and the pre-commitment scheme coming in for gambling and internet censorship in the future… and there’s even been talk on banning transfats and junk food, which is already occurring in some areas in Australia. Where will it stop?.

Anyway, back to the article by Prof. Simon Chapman.

“EARLIER this month the Australian government released draft legislation that promises to be a landmark in the global fight against tobacco. If passed, from January 2012 cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco will have to be sold in plain, unappealing olive-brown packs plastered with large, graphic health warnings. The only thing distinguishing one brand from another will be the name written in a standard font on the top, bottom and front of the pack, below the health warning. This is a world first.”

The legislation also proposes that cigarettes themselves should be completely plain. That means no branding, no coloured or flavoured papers, no gold-banded filters and no different gauges like slimline and mini cigarettes.”

So they’re completely removing all differentiation between the products. That’d be like making all soft drinks use the same bottle, same liquid colour, same everything other than the ingredients which went into making it.

“With this bill, the Australian government is sending out an unambiguous message that cigarettes are exceptionally dangerous.”

This is breaking news is it? Cigarettes are dangerous? Wow, why haven’t we heard about this before…? Shouldn’t we tell all the smokers out there that what they’re doing is incredibly dangerous? Surely if they had this information they’d quit straight away, right!? If the smokers haven’t already got the picture from the mandatory grotesque pictures on the packets, and constant anti-smoking ads and campaigns, not to mention public harassment, they never will.

Many Australians are left wondering, if it won't work, why is the industry bothering to waste its money campaigning so hard against it?”

Ummmm…. Geee… Maybe because the government is stealing their trademarks making them all indistinguishable from one another. Wouldn’t any company be fighting against such action? Imagine if every single soft drink brand had to suddenly display the same label so the customer would no longer be able to distinguish between Coca Cola and Coles Homebrand, don’t you think companies like Coca Cola would get angry even if it wouldn’t affect their trade? It’s effectively stealing their intellectual property!

On top of that: this is the next step in a long run of bullying by the government and society after decades of tax increases and being forced to display graphic images on their packages. These don’t even prevent people from smoking anyway, instead they condition people to associate the grotesque images with the action of smoking, and then they crave a cigarette (refer to Buy-ology by Martin Lindstrom). The government has treated them like absolute shit, whether or not you would argue they deserve to be treated that way, I can see why they would spend so much money in the latest brutal bullying campaign against them.

We shouldn’t be attacking these companies anymore than we already are. We should be more focusing on the people consuming the cigarettes, especially when it comes to youths, the main demographic taking up smoking. If we can’t cut the problem off at the base, it’s reasonable to assume it will keep growing back.

“…the literature suggests package marketing only influences the choices of existing smokers” – Chris Berg, IPA

We have to also remember, smokers currently can’t even see the packaging until after the purchase… has this changed anything? Most youths try smoking simply because it’s illegal for those under 18 and because it’s risk taking. It’s much the same as arguments for why young people try illicit drugs. Once something is legalized and regulated the mystique is removed from it.

In my experience with smokers, they didn’t start smoking because the packaging of a specific brand was appealing. They started because their friends smoked, they thought it looked cool when they saw others smoking in the street and thus took it up. When it comes down to it, even with the plain packaging, they’re not going to give a crap about brand… they just want to smoke! We should be targeting them and spending our taxpayer’s money and revenue from tobacco taxes on that.

“With the proliferation of tobacco advertising bans, generations of children are growing into adulthood having never been exposed to tobacco promotions. In Australia, no child under 17 has ever seen direct tobacco advertising, and the number of both young and adult smokers is the lowest on record.”

And yet you still can’t go out to a café or club without walking past numerous young and old smokers. Many of which, as stated, would have never seen any of the advertising, and yet they smoke nonetheless. Will this next step really change anything? I doubt it…

Where is this all going to lead is my main concern, and where is the government going to stop? There are many dangerous activities, products and objects in society. Are we one day going to be under so much control that we’ll have a strictly regulated daily regime to make sure we avoid personal harm at all costs? “This is what you can eat, this is where you can go and how you can get there, this is what you can do for fun.” No doubt the bastards will put chess at the top of the “safe recreation” list, just above stamp collecting, oh the joy… Control, control, control… Whatever happened to a government instated to hold up the liberties of all its citizens? Will that soon be a nostalgic thought written in our history?

Pete, edited by Han.

Just to scare you a little more, I suggest you have a read of The Preventative Health Taskforce’s report released in Sept, 2009. It includes 122 recommendations for change in legislation, and is effectively a blueprint for the ‘nanny state’ in Australia. Here's an article on it from the IPA.


  1. Of all the various brands of cigarettes, there are actually only two companies that make them, British American and Philip morris. The various brands are essentially the same and only have a different label to create a stigma or a brand loyalty

    I think the main purpose of plain packaging is to make them less appealing to children, who don't have as decent decision making skills as ourselves.

    And finally, you give people way to much credit, so many still ignore the known health risks and brush them off, I see smokers outside hospital doors each day and it makes me cringe, particularly pregnant women :(

    Cheers for the read

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