When in Doubt, Slap a Tobacco Company
All hail the brave warrior Tariana Turia, leading the small but valiant army of the New Zealand Government against the numberless forces of the evil tobacco companies. While outnumbered ten-to-one in terms of resources, the Government underdogs will prevail – because they have moral righteousness on their side.
Alternatively, you could see the Government’s push for plain packaging of cigarettes as the latest in a series of populist bullying tactics against everyone’s favourite whipping boys – smokers and tobacco companies. Not content with the annual tradition of increasing the “sin tax” on cigarettes, as well as a law requiring gruesome photos on the front of every packet, the NZ Government now wants to ban tobacco companies from having their branding and logo on cigarette packets.
The Australian Government started down the plain packaging path in 2011, but the tobacco companies fought back, filing a multi-billion dollar lawsuit for confiscation of intellectual property rights without due compensation. After all, these companies have built up a brand over the decades. Banning them from using it without compensating them for their loss is probably unconstitutional.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard tried to portray her Government as David rather than Goliath: “We’re not going to be intimidated by big tobacco’s tactics”. But there are few things more cringeworthy than a politician leading a witch-hunt against an unpopular figure. Attacking tobacco companies requires about as much bravery as ripping on Destiny Church or Justin Bieber.
Back in New Zealand, the main arguments about the proposed law have so far been about whether it would actually make a difference to smoking rates. But while there’s no doubt smoking ain’t good for the old lungs, this debate misses the point. One of the great things about being human is that we have choices. If people want to smoke, it’s their choice. Hence why we haven’t banned cigarettes altogether, even though that would presumably reduce smoking rates.
Do we really want the government launching populist crusades against everything it considers unhealthy? If so, say goodbye to alcohol, fast food and soft drinks. We’ve already had some crackpot call soft drink companies “drug dealers” after a woman paid the ultimate price for drinking 7.5 litres of Coke per day. The government needs to step back before we end up with plain packaging for beer. Although that would give the SoGo industry a massive boost.