Death to the tobacco brand, Australia strikes first

The Australian government’s decision to ban all labelling on cigarette packets provides a good opportunity to remember how tobacco companies have marketed their lethal products in the past.

I recommend the Stanford School of Medicine’s fantastic website on the history of tobacco advertising and its attempts to convince us all that smoking is healthy. It would be laughable now if it wasn’t for countries like Indonesia, and irresponsible pop stars like Kelly Clarkson, who allow Big Tobacco to continue to use their old tricks to lure new addicts, in the form of children and women from developing countries.

Here are some of my favourite slogans from the past:

  • “Gee, Mommy you sure enjoy your Marlboros.”
  • “See how your throat reacts to the delightfully cool mildness of camels.”
  • “Nose, throat, and accessory organs not adversely affected by smoking Chesterfields.”
  • “Made especially to prevent sore throats.” (Craven)
  • “Those holiday throats need a carton of Kools.”
  • “Just what the doctor ordered.” (L&M)
  • “Smoke to your throat’s content.” (Lucky Strike)
  • “When smokers changed to Philip Morris every case of nose or throat—due to smoking—either cleared completely or definitely improved!”
  • “Smoke like a chimney? Who cares! Your mouth will taste clean as a whistle.” (Spuds)
  • “Can never stain your teeth.” (Viceroy)
  • And my all-time favourite: “We’re tobacco men…not medicine men.” (Old Gold)

In addition to the label ban, the Australian government also announced a 25-percent hike in the excise tax on tobacco products. A packet of 30 cigarettes will jump to about 16.70 Australian dollars (US $15.40). The additional five billion dollars in taxes raised will go to fund health care reform.

In Indonesia, by comparison, there are virtually no limits on cigarette advertising, a packet of Marlboros costs about US$1.20 and the health system is an utter shambles. Indonesia is one of the developing countries being aggressively targeted for expansion by Big Tobacco.

The Australian government says its studies have found that limiting cigarette advertising has resulted in lower rates of smoking. The industry rejects these findings and has predictably attacked the new packaging rules, saying they are grave infringements on the companies’ intellectual property rights.

The tobacco lobby and other supporters have already taken up the banner, with conservative think-tanks like the Institute of Public Affairs sending its attack dogs into the breach. The IPA’s Tim Wilson has called the move a “ploy” and a “smokescreen” designed to divert attention from the Labor government’s failure to introduce a carbon emissions control scheme. Writing in The Australian, his argument echoes, down to the threat of multi-billion-dollar litigation for infringements of intellectual property rights, the arguments of the tobacco industry.

Some commentators have argued that banning a trademark’s display is not tantamount to taking a tobacco company’s trademark. International IP rules say the point of trademarks is to assist in the “capability to distinguish the goods or services”. Introducing plain packaging would devalue a trademark and may require the commonwealth to compensate tobacco firms.

Although the cost of Rudd’s reckless move is unknown, rough calculations by the Institute of Public Affairs show that taxpayers may be required to fatten the profits of tobacco companies by up to $3 billion a year.

According to Sourcewatch, sources of the IPA’s funding which the right-wing group has disclosed to journalists and media organisations include Philip Morris and British American Tobacco. These two companies control 40 and 42 percent of the Australian market respectively. If that’s the case, Wilson should disclose that conflict of interest in his articles, and The Australian should demand he does so.

As noted last week by Nick O’Malley in the Sydney Morning Herald:

The tobacco cause in Australia has also been championed by the nation’s two leading conservative think tanks, the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), both of which have ideological stances against regulation. It is known both groups have accepted tobacco money in the past, but when contacted by the Herald this week, the CIS denied it still did.

The director of the IPA’s deregulation unit, Dr Alan Moran, said he neither knew nor cared to know whether the organisation accepted funding from tobacco companies, but maintained the IPA’s stance against increasing regulation, noting that smokers were fully aware of the dangers associated with tobacco.

O’Malley goes on to describe how tobacco industry money extends throughout Australian business and politics, from front lobby groups to pub and club associations and the Australian Hotels Association.

We’ll see them all come out of the woodwork in the coming months as the tobacco companies fight for their brands.

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