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Australian Packaging and the Smoker’s Party

Thank you for smoking: Australian Packaging and the Smoker’s Party


Click to enlarge
Logoless: an example of what plain packaged cigarettes will look like.

So, the wheels of history are moving back as the Australian election is heating up. What has made little impact is the startling announcement by a retail association to effectively pack a pro-smoking measure. The Labor government has insisted that plain packaging be used, taking the allure out of the pursuit of smoking. No Logo is their message. Take the gloss off the endeavour.

The Alliance of Australian Retailers has gotten busy funding an advertising campaign against the incumbent Labor party costing somewhere upwards of $5 million. The busy bees behind the strategy have been, it is reported, former Howard government advisers and Liberal Party strategists. ‘There’s no credible evidence that this policy will stop people smoking, that it will stop kids, young people, taking up cigarette smoking,’ claims AAR spokeswoman Sheryle Moon. An awful sense of déjà vu seems to be taking place. (Recall those days when there was no ‘credible’ evidence between smoking and cancer.)

The moves by the association have been motivated by a terror of declining sales and, it would seem, a refusal to accept the nature of the changing market. The anti-smoking group Quit has come out hard against the advertisements of the AAR. ‘This campaign,’ in the words of Fiona Sharkie, executive director of Quit, ‘is purely about an industry terrified of declining profits and one that will do anything to safe its bottom line’ (AAP, Aug 4). And indeed, the AAR is attempting to simply make it a matter of bad business practice and process.

This certainly has broader implications at the state and federal level. Since 2004, the ALP has moved away from accepting funds from smoking giants (another example of keeping smoking off the political machine), a move due to the then federal leader, Mark Latham. Ethical politics had to be de rigueur. But the fact that the Liberal party has done no such thing has inevitably made it, by virtue of its connections with the tobacco lobby, the smoking party of choice.

The West Australian Labor Party has accused their opposite number in that state for accepting ‘ciggie’ funds. Philip Morris has certainly been more than eager to spread its influence through Liberal party contributions. Between 2004 and 2009, the liberals in Western Australia received $23,000 in contributions. Labor’s health spokesman has made the obvious remark that the policy was oozing with hypocrisy, where money was received from ‘organisations that they know kill people and at the same think they can understand the needs of Western Australians’ (Sydney Morning Herald, Aug 5). The federal Liberals, on the other hand, are happy to receive millions from those same companies.

The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard will have to face the brutish realities that are coming her way as her government rapidly ensures its pathway to oblivion. But surely she might make more of this to the voters? Once Philip Morris and British American Tobacco muddy the waters of electoral politics, the taint should be electoral gold for a struggling campaign. The Liberal party, for what their worth, claim that they might consider no branding policies while still keeping their coffers open for the tobacco giants. Even misanthropes would be amused.

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Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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