The tobacco companies hit the road this morning with an interesting new direction in their campaign against plain packaging.
The last campaign was something of a disaster. The tobacco companies tried to make plain cigarette packaging an election issue by getting a bunch of retailers to band together to make a range of claims, including that the government strategy won’t work.
I vaguely remember someone asking the question, ‘So what are you worried about?’ which prompted the usual civil liberties blather that makes me change radio stations and look for the nearest cliff to drive off in an expression of personal freedom.
Today, the tobacco lobby has decided it has had enough and will instead do the following to show they care:
1. Reduce the cost of cigarettes to ‘flood the market.’
2. Reduce the cost by reducing the quality, importing ‘chop-chop’ cigarettes
3. Keep doing what they’ve doing for the last couple of centuries and work out new and inventive ways to be inextricably linked to fantastically immoral behaviour (remember the slave trade?).
To illustrate point 3, in an interview with that bastion of mediocrity, Melbourne’s Herald Sun, British American Tobacco’s ‘Australia chief’ David Crow (what an appropriate name) had this rather malelovent thing to say.
“Could cigarettes halve over time? In the longer term, potentially yes.”
It sounds even better when you imagine the man stroking a cat and leaving a dramatic pause between ‘potentially’ and ‘yes.’ He went on and drove his message home in the caring, sharing way we’ve come to expect from tobacco companies:
“[cheap prices] basically means more people will smoke, more kids will smoke.”
And then you can imagine him narrowing his eyes, ashing his cigarette into the mouth of a baby seal and laughing like Dr Evil.
That’s awesome. Well done. It’s good you’re caring for the kids and ensuring they might have access to cheap death sticks.
I guess it’s hard to see from his point-of-view. He has a job where the predictable outcome of everything he does to improve the profits of his business pretty much boils down to, ‘Kill more people, and do it slowly. The last thing we want is tobacco knocking them off when they’ve got 20 years to keep going AND be a drain on society.’
He also has the problem that whenever he finds a cheaper way to do things, the Government turns around and whacks a jolly great tax on his deadly products. I mean, you have to feel for the guy, right?
Nah, I can’t bring myself to do it either.
He even went on to say that the government will owe him billions in compensation. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if the government, even if the courts found them liable, just didn’t pay and the tobacco companies then left in a huff (sorry, sorry)? I know I’d find it funny.
I’m not all that sure plain packaging will make much of a difference but I’m quite pleased about it. If it makes one person give up (which it probably won’t), then it’s worth it. It’s worth it for vexing the tobacco companies, that much is a given. The problem I see is that the companies will start handing out branded tins for the small group of desperado image-obsessed smokers to slip their olive-green cigarette packs into shiny packaging and allow them to breathe easy (sorry, sorry).
This is all just a stunt, thinking he can ‘scare’ the government into backing down. His problem is, social attitudes to smoking have changed and even many people who do smoke won’t care very much. The government won’t back down, they won’t import the chop-chop and if they do, the taxes will make up the difference, thereby just annoying their customers.
Everyone wins except the tobacco companies. Wait…maybe that’s their clever plan, to undo themselves? Maybe they do care?