Big Tobacco is proving notoriously hard to stub out but legal changes, excise hikes and the illicit trade are hurting it, writes John Hearne
Smoking in cars with children present is about to become illegal. It was announced last month that the legislation, driven by veteran anti- smoking campaigner Senator John Crowne, has been approved and is likely to be written into the statute books by the summer.
This latest legislative swipe against the tobacco industry keeps Ireland at the forefront of the war. Next month is the nine-year anniversary of the ban on smoking in public buildings and workplaces — the first of its kind in the world.
Everywhere you look, the legislative noose is tightening on the tobacco industry. New York State banned smoking around playgrounds last year, as did Edmonton in Canada. Ottawa went a step further, ousting smokers from bar and restaurant patios, and from city parks and beaches. Smoking in cars with children has already been outlawed in five US states, as well as in Australia, Canada, Cyprus, and the United Arab Emirates.
In November, a judge ruled that tobacco companies which lied about the dangers of cigarettes must cough up for a public campaign to advertise their deception. In one of the harshest rulings to emerge from a long-running Justice Department case against the industry, Big Tobacco will be required to run ads which contain one of five different statements.
One of them begins: "A federal court has ruled that the defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public by falsely selling and advertising low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes." Another says: "Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day."
None of these, however, match Australian legislators’ strike against the industry. From December last, all cigarette packs sold down under look almost identical. Logos have been outlawed. The name of the brand appears in a generic font in a standard size on one side. On the other you get shocking images of the health effects of smoking; a child on a respirator, gums riddled with cancer. There’s a particularly gruesome one of an eyeball, surmounted by medical clamps, bulging from its socket. Above this particular image, it reads ‘Smoking causes blindness’.
The new packs are coloured what’s officially designated ‘drab dark brown’.
The whole process, called debranding, has become one of the most bitterly contested battlegrounds in the war between the industry and health authorities struggling to deal with the massive health costs associated with smoking. Governments around the world are watching the Australian experience with interest, while some, including Britain, are actively considering introducing plain packaging.
Big Tobacco’s rearguard action against this regulatory onslaught has tried to focus media attention on collateral damage; the family-run newsagents and tobacconists who suffer each time another smoker is hounded into quitting or another 10c is slapped on the price of a pack. Now, with its logos under threat of extinction, the tobacco backlash is becoming ever more visible.
Source: John Hearne, Irish Examiner, 22/02/13