Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nanny knows best: Why Big Tobacco's attack on Mary Poppins ought to backfire

Published: June 20, 2011

It will take more than a spoon-ful of sugar to make this medicine go down.
In its latest attempt to derail the plain cigarette packaging legislation, Big Tobacco has pulled out one of its favourite pro-tobacco messages: say no to a nanny state.
The print advertisements and website ask, “Do you really like living in a nanny state?” and explain, “The government doesn’t believe you can make your own decisions. More and more, the government is telling us what we should and shouldn’t do.”
The tobacco industry’s concern with the legislation is, of course, the loss of their branding – one of the last available avenues to market cigarettes to consumers.
It’s motive? Retaining the current level of profit by selling cigarettes that cause addiction and then prematurely kill one in every two people who smoke them.
Big Tobacco has relied on a range of arsenal and contradictory messages to fight the plain packaging legislation so far.
First we were told there was no evidence plain packaging would work. Then, we were told it would increase smoking. And most recently, that it would increase terrorism and allow organised crime to flourish.
Economically, we were told plain packaging would waste taxpayer money. And, it would cost the taxpayer even more money because the tobacco manufacturers would sue the government.
Historical nannies
The term “nanny state” was coined by British politician Iain Macleod in 1965. At one stage a health minister, he smoked furiously and died at 57 of a heart attack.
The metaphor was given further prominence by the British author and journalist Auberon Waugh. Waugh, also a heavy smoker, opposed any action on smoking and died of heart disease at 61.
Closer to home, governments have been accused of nanny stateism in the process of implementing all of our greatest public health reforms.
In the 1950s, 75% of Australian men smoked. But with bans on tobacco advertising, smoke-free legislation and increased tobacco taxes, this rate is down to less than 17%, and we now have the lowest levels of smoking ever among adolescents.

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