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What WAS the tobacco industry thinking? Let’s help the Government, maybe…

If it is possible to hear someone grinning over the telephone, that’s what I heard today.

The person responsible for the sound signifying sheer delight was Professor Mike Daube, president of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA).

“I haven’t enjoyed a day as much since I discovered ice cream,” he said in reference to the tobacco industry’s strategic blunder that is hitting the headlines today (you can read what else Daube had to say at the bottom of this post).

In case you’ve missed the news, tobacco companies have bankrolled a new “alliance” of retailers to run an advertising campaign attacking the Federal Government plan for cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging from July 2012. This world-first move, announced in April, has attracted international public health acclaim.

As the Sydney Morning Herald reported today, the new advertising blitz will argue that plain tobacco packaging will not prevent smoking but will instead hamper small businesses and cost jobs. The campaign will run under the auspices of what looks suspiciously like a front group , the newly formed Alliance of Australian Retailers, and is bankrolled by the three largest tobacco firms – British American Tobacco Australia, Philip Morris Australia and Imperial Tobacco Australia.

What were the tobacco industry strategists thinking?

Not only did they give Health Minister Nicola Roxon an opportunity to make some political mileage (especially given reports emphasising the role of former Howard Government advisors in the campaign), they have put Tony Abbott under immense pressure to commit his own side to supporting plain packaging.

For once the voices in the health sector have been singing in harmony. The PHAA, the Heart Foundation, Cancer Council Australia – and even the AMA – are on the same message: that Abbott must sign up to plain packaging.

If Abbott doesn’t take a strong stand, he risks looking like a friend of Big Tobacco. These days, that is not a good look for anyone, and particularly not for politicians at this point of the electoral cycle. The public has had decades of exposes about the industry’s nefarious tactics.

Actually, this AAP story from April records that Abbott has previously committed to plain packaging. On the Nine Network, when pressed by (then) Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard  on whether he would support both the tax on cigarettes and plain packaging, Mr Abbott conceded he would.  “Yes, Julia,” an exasperated Mr Abbott said.

Today, however,  he is only committing to “considering” plain packaging (so far as I have heard anyway.)

What were the industry strategists thinking? That it had worked for the miners, so it would work for them?

Meanwhile, back to Mike Daube, who says:

“This is the biggest and best own goal I have seen in nearly 40 years of tobacco campaigning.

This is a campaign by the tobacco industry posing behind an unbelievably inept front organisation that was only fabricated a couple of weeks ago.

They can’t get their lines straight (they think plain packaging won’t work, but they oppose them because they will reduce sales). They think profits for corner stores are more important than preventing 14,000 deaths a year and preventing kids from smoking. The international tobacco industry shows its respect for democracy by buying into a national election campaign. They provide massive opportunity for health groups to speak about the dangers of smoking. Above all, they show how desperately concerned the tobacco industry is about the advent of plain packaging.

So it would be hard to surpass as an object lesson in shooting yourself in the foot.”

Croakey continues:

Perhaps the PM and her health Minister should send the responsible tobacco executives a nice big bunch of flowers. Nicotiana, of course.

The Nicotiana flower
The Nicotiana flower

Meanwhile, on other health election issues…

The Greens health policy has much to recommend it. It stresses preventative care, primary health care, dental care and community-based mental health services, as well as developing health plans to respond to climate change, and addressing the social and economic factors that contribute to health inequities. They also would ban junk food advertising on children’s TV.

Policies are all very well and good, but do they have a hope of ever being translated into action?

We shall just have to wait and see. After all, the move to strip cigarettes of their branding glam was once seen as an ambit claim…

Update, 6 August: See what the new Cut Your Cancer Risk blog has to say on this issue.

Comments 9

  1. shaun.lambert@hotmail.com says:

    Interestingly, would these plain packaging laws have an effect on the cigarettes vending machines? They could still advertise on the outside, and have the packets without branding. The vending machines would just replace the individual packets..

  2. Michael Rynn says:

    Its taken lifetimes of disease statistics and health costs, and lobbying work to restrict smoking, and reduce the profits of big tobacco. Tobacco advertising has all but disappeared. Plain packets are a good next step.

    Progress is still too slow. To hell with the addictive drug profiteers. The next step must be confiscation of all tobacco company profits, for the treatment of tobacco related disease.

    If only we could be as successful in taxing and cutting carbon emissions.

  3. gplay says:

    Labor have lied over and over about Tobacco and the research backing alot of their statements is pathetic high school dribble. Yes tobacco is bad, but saying it is the leading cause of premature death and disease is straight out wrong and the now reigning #1; obesity is barely targeted at all… Furthurmore tobacco smokers are a supply of major positive tax inflows, whereas obese people are not. Why are they being marginalised so much? I just returned from Japan where 50% of males smoke, they still lead average mortality age and are one of the healthiest countries, if not the healthiest in the world.

    When I was there talking to locals one man said to his groups amazement that they didn’t even trust Australians with the tobacco’s strength, the cause of much ire for him and his buddies. (Nicotine, tar and CO2 levels have been banned from display on packets so people don’t think lighter cigarettes are better) His normal red coloured packet of cigarettes were unavailable so he decided on a red packet here in australia. His 6mg Larks did not prepare him for the 16mg Peter Jackson and like someone who just took a swig of a vodka instead of a beer he felt ill.

    Now imagine the problem when colours arn’t even displayed… Stop going nuts on Tobacco! This will hurt tourism, many of our top countries have 50%+ male smokers (and guess who makes the holiday decisions).

    Acadamic capitals in the US, Germany, Tokyo etc. etc. have tobacco advertising in public and smoking indoors -> Australia looks like the least laidback strictest place in the world – a contrasting picture for incoming tourists who without doubt make decisions on an activity they enjoy several times during the day.

  4. Rorschach says:

    Abbott is silent on the issue, undoubtely hoping it will somehow go away.Well, it won’t, since the ads are due to start this weekend.
    I think it is much more of an own goal for Abbott and the Liberals then for the tobacco industry, since it’s crystal clear that coalition and former Howard government employees have been instrumental in getting this campaign together in the first place.
    I can not imagine this explicitly anti-labor campaign could have happened without the coalition candidate knowing about it.

  5. simon.chapman says:

    gplay — where to begin … tobacco is still #1 cause of death, but even if it was #2 ot #15, what’s your point? That we should only address #1? So long to action on every other health problem by that logic. Not very smart. Smokers pay taxes, yes. Is your point that we therefore should encourage more smoking? I don’t smoke, but I spend my money on other commodities which are taxed as well. There is zero evidence that smoking restrictions hurt tourism. Let me know if you want to play duelling evidence and I ‘ll drown you in data.

  6. SmokeFree says:

    Thank you Mr. P Morris, Mr Bata and Mr. Imperial. Tobacco control never usually becomes a vote winner in an election, it gets drowned out by other issues.

    With your lovely friend Sheryle, who admits that her own son smokes (see Lateline), you have ensured that smoking is now a hot election topic! We win – you lose.

  7. gplay says:

    Simon Chapman, I make international tourism decisions often based on or partially on tobacco restrictions in the destination country.

    Eating and smoking together for example is something I enjoy and even in individual high airflow booths such a thing wouldn’t be possible in Queensland. Smart?

    Do you think Tobacco smokers don’t care about the raft of legislation and the negative stigmatisation and stereotyping that goes along with it. The conservative bull that has propelled Australia into the stricted position in the world? No joke this and the alcohol restrictions contributes to young professionals leaving after attaining degrees, I meet them across the world with similar stories.

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Acknowledgement
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PIJ Commissions 2021
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#PreventiveHealthStrategy
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Health in All Policies
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Media Doctor Australia
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Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
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#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC
#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017