Thursday, October 2, 2008

Will generic packaging eliminate smokers?

A pair of anti-smoker activists is gleefully contemplating the imminent demise of the global tobacco industry. Simon Chapman, a professor of public health, and Becky Freeman, a doctoral student in tobacco control, have suggested that the industry is about to meet its Waterloo.

The cape-less crusaders, from the University of Sydney in Australia, believe that generic packaging of cigarettes will turn smokers off and inevitably “kill the industry”. The strategy is to pass legislation to require that all cigarette packs be identical, except for the brand name printed in non-descript, standard font on the box. No colours or logos will be permitted, just the brand name and the standard health warning.

The argument used by Chapman and Freeman to support generic packaging legislation is that since prescription dugs come in plain packaging, tobacco products should be sold in a similar fashion. They ignore the fact that nicotine based drugs (gum, lozenges, etc.), designed to compete with tobacco, are sold “over the counter”. And, these nicotine replacement products are sold from in store displays designed for maximum appeal and located to provide maximum exposure to the consumer.

The also fail to take into consideration the massive “direct to consumer” advertising of many prescription medications. Even the reportedly deadly Chantix, a smoking cessation drug, despite hundred of lawsuits filed against its manufacturer over the adverse effects of the drug, is advertised openly on television and in the print media.

Chapman and Freeman point to research by Professor Melanie Wakefield, from the Cancer Council Victoria, which shows that smokers rated similar dull, generic boxes as less attractive and popular than current packs. Apparently, the 813 smokers who participated in the study also thought that those who would smoke them were “much less stylish, outgoing and mature than smokers of the original pack.” Uh-huh.

Here in Ontario, cigarettes are already hidden from view. Smokers have to ask for the brand by name. They’re not allowed to see or touch the pack until they’ve paid for it. The article points out that Australia is currently considering legislation similar to that used in Ontario.

But, it’s highly unlikely the smoking public will give a rat’s ass about whether the cigarettes come in a black and white pack, any more than they will about the compulsory and grotesque health warnings.

Maybe the fanatics have forgotten that it’s the cigarettes that people smoke, not the packaging. Are these anti-smoker control freaks really that divorced from reality. Don’t they know the best selling brands in Canada come in plain, unadorned plastic bags?

This whole charade is becoming laughable.

How long do they think it will be before some budding entrepreneur starts producing sleeves for cigarette packages? Just slip off that offensive black and white sleeve with its ridiculous pictures of blackened lungs and slip the remainder of the pack into something a little more appropriate.

How about a picture of the majestic Rockies with an aging smoker in a black cowboy hat smoking a generic cigarette in the foreground? Or, a picture of beautiful Ingonish in Cape Breton, with its white sand beach and a bikini clad babe lighting up as the sun sets in the west.

Or, alternatively, you could print out self-adhesive labels to cover the offensive packaging. For example, labels depicting the smoker’s favourite leisure activity; baseball, soccer, hockey; golf, etc. Hell, with inexpensive graphics software and a decent printer, you could personalize your own stickers.

You could even print your own warning labels. Something like: “Don’t tell me to butt out; I have a license to carry.” Or, how about: ‘Telling this smoker to butt out could be hazardous to your health.” Or, this one: “Yes, smokers are suicidal and may be homicidal. So, keep your opinion to yourself.”

But, you don’t even have to get fancy. Cheap plastic cigarette cases are available for a couple of bucks. Or, will the anti-smoker brigade try and have them banned too?

The Chapman/Freeman article in the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) opens with the statement: “The global tobacco industry's annual conference features a special session on what many are seeing as its Armageddon: plain, generic packaging.”

These people are dreaming in technicolour. No matter how unattractive they make the packaging, adult smokers will continue to buy the product. And, the more unappealing you make the package, the more tempting it will become to rebellious teens.

As I recall, marijuana already comes in plain packaging.

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