Red Harmisson writes from Sydney: This weekend Australia has introduced plain packaging for cigarettes. All logos and even the colours of tobacco companies are illegal from today, thanks to a legal decision to make it OK for this stupid government ban to be implemented.
The new packages are dirty green and the brand name is in small print and printed at at the bottom of the pack. According to Australia’s Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, ‘this is the last gasp of a dying industry’. Ms Plibersek, a non-smoker, obviously has a perverse sense of humour. Just like the whole of the Australian government, mind you.
Australia has been in the front of anti-smoking campaigns. TV smoking ads were banned as long ago as 1976 and tobacco companies were prevented from sports sponsorship 20 years ago. The the government set itself a target to reduce smoking to just 10 per cent of the population by 2018. It claims that some 15,000 Australians die each year because of the habit. All seems sensible for anyone looking at the numbers. That’s not the case.
Australia may be a healthy country in terms of image, but this is all an illusion. Because it’s a very mixed society, smoking is almost inbred in some new Australians, especially those from southern Europe and Asia. Also there is the macho image in some packaging. Kids naturally thought it cool to smoke and the very act of flipping a smoke out of a pack of twenty and flicking a match of Zippo and then the first deep gasp had a toughie look to it.
The new package will be covered in death threats from smokes to anyone buying a packet. Yet there are those who say this will only increase the attraction for some. The tobacco manufacturers say that the court decision was a result of Australia’s quirky constitutional laws and they’re fighting back.
They say this will encourage smuggling and because they will be under sales pressures, they’ll have to cut prices and so more people will afford ciggies.
Could be, of course, that the decision will set off a whole series of plain packaging. Chocolate bars could go the same way and so make the anti-obesity lobby happy. Contraceptives could be made to tone down the joyful images but the Safe Sex campaigners are not so pleased about that idea. They seem to want every Australia male to go about condomed all the time in case he gets the urge.
But there are some freaky ideas to cheer up sat upon Aussies. How about banning morbid coloured hearses so that people think it’s an OK thing to die – from smoking or anything else? A bloke in the Coogee Bay said he reckoned we should get rid of colours in traffic lights so that drivers have to actually look at the corners and cross roads instead of relying on signals to tell them to drive safely. Mind you, he smokes 40 a day and is not allowed to smoke and drive so doesn’t mind whom he hits.
There’s another side to this. Australians are pretty responsible people. They don’t much like being told that they’re so stupid that they can’t make up their own minds about smoking and almost anything else. If they want to give it away, then that’s up to them. This whole thing started because a past health minister’s dad died of a smoking related disease and that was sad. But that makes the idea personal and personal politics shouldn’t get a look in.
Personally, I like roll ups. I can do it with one hand while holding a schooner with the other. I like the idea of the occasional discerning lady to get a glimpse of my packaging and maybe get a bit interested. Of course I know what to do. I’ll put the baccy in a leather pouch and that’ll be pretty sharp for the image. And you never know, cigarette cases may make a come-back. Could even be that sissy Pommy image of the silver snap shut ciggie case will catch on in such a big way that cigarette sales will increase. Then they’ll have to think of something else. But mark me mate, they will. They will.