By KAREN LANGHAUSER, Editor
My parents started smoking at age 18, and have told me countless times that they really were not fully aware of how dangerous smoking was when they started. While in no way were cigarettes promoted as good-for-you, even in the 70’s, in my parents’ defense, their decision to become smokers did predate extensive anti-smoking campaigns, as well as the abundance of medical research today’s consumers have on tobacco usage.
New legislation was just proposed by the Australian government that would force tobacco companies to use plain, logo-free packaging on their cigarettes, in an attempt to make the products less attractive to consumers. The rules, which would not take effect until July 2012, would ban tobacco companies from including logos, promotional text or colorful images on cigarette packages. Cigarette brand names would be relegated to tiny, generic font at the bottom of the package.
While it might seem insensitive to consider the economic implications of such a law, especially when human lives are at stake, I can’t help but point out that this law will seemingly render cigarette marketing obsolete, as brand awareness will be nearly impossible with plain, logo-free packages. The tobacco industry, like any industry, is highly competitive, and brand loyalty is important for sales. It seems though, that this is exactly what the Australian government is looking to do -- decrease cigarette sales.
Despite the fact that cigarette makers are producing, marketing and selling a product that kills five million people globally per year, tobacco manufacturing is a legitimate, legal business. In the U.S., the manufacturing of cigarettes alone employs over 15,000 Americans, many of which have mortgages to pay and families to feed. I know no one wants to pity the wealthy cigarette execs, but there are a lot of blue collar employees involved in the manufacturing process whose livelihoods depend on sales in the tobacco industry.
Any time government mandates are proposed, I always wonder why we are always assuming consumers are stupid and gullible. Today’s society (in both Australia and the U.S.) is flooded with information about the dangers of smoking – from television ads, to billboards, to entire educational programs in our schools. The world is certainly not ill-informed about the risks of smoking.
I am willing to bet that not a single smoker buys a pack of cigarettes thinking it’s a healthful decision. They buy them because they are addicted – and I firmly believe today’s society is too well-informed to make the ugly decision to start or continue these addictions based on pretty packaging.