At the age of 65, I know what I am talking about: of my many friends who have already passed on, most were cigarette smokers. I don’t remember a single one who was ever pleased to have discovered tobacco. Not in health. Still less in illness.
So why is the tobacco industry permitted to continue to promote its toxic wares to prospective new addicts? The industry’s latest outrage is a campaign against plain packaging. Plain packaging means stripping cigarette packages of branding, including colors, imagery, and corporate logos, thereby rendering smoking less glamorous. The main effect, it is believed, would be to lessen smoking’s appeal to the young and impressionable.
Seems like a good idea and it is certainly worth a try. But, for some reason, major American and British tobacco companies are dead-set against it.
In any analysis of the issues, an important distinction must be drawn between, on the one hand, existing addicts and, on the other hand, new ones. For decades to come, cigarette manufacturers will have a legitimate business serving a diminishing community of existing addicts. But no decent person should have any part in trying to hook new ones.
In the battle to rein in new addiction, a major flashpoint has been Australia, which a year ago this Sunday became the first nation in the world to impose plain packaging. The Australians pushed through the measure in the face of intense pressure from New York-based Philip Morris International and London-based British American Tobacco. Now many other nations, not least the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, India, and Turkey, are considering following Australia’s lead. (In the United States, the Constitution seems to be on the industry’s side in blocking the introduction of plain packaging.)
The United Kingdom is the next key battleground. The tobacco lobby has scored an important victory in that Lynton Crosby, an Australian-born former lobbyist for Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, has been hired as a key adviser by British Prime Minister David Cameron. A reasonable inference is that this signals a deal in which Cameron will oppose plain packaging in return for tobacco industry funding. Certainly that is how the British press is interpreting it. But yesterday Cameron seemed to flip-flop by announcing a review of the issue. Cameron’s critics suggest he is merely playing for time and remains in the tobacco industry’s pocket.
As quoted by the BBC, British Labor Party leader Ed Miliband commented: “The government should have introduced plain packaging earlier this year – we want them to act swiftly, we want them to act now. And they seem to be offering another review. We don’t need another review.
“Every major public health expert agrees this would help the battle against cancer, against young people taking up smoking.”
It is time the assembled big wigs of the global tobacco industry were held to account. The fact is that, virtually without exception, those who become addicted do so before they leave their teens. It is simply not enough that industry leaders comply with the letter of the law. They must also comply with the dictates of their own consciences and do everything within reason to keep their products out of the hands of new addicts.
Here, a few questions for the world’s largest tobacco company might not be out of place. I address myself to Louis C. Camilleri, chairman of Philip Morris International:
- Have you ever met a smoker who was glad to have taken up the habit?
- Do any of your children smoke and, if so, did you encourage them to do so?
- What words of comfort would you offer to anyone dying of a tobacco-related illness?