Subsidising the real cost of tobacco

Agree. Disagree. It doesn’t really matter if you’re dying of cancer. Or cardiovascular disease. As a matter of fact I agree with the tobacco industry that health is a personal choice which can be made by rational individuals. Bloody nanny state always taking the fags off the kids and stopping them setting fire to themselves. I also know that advertising will do just about anything to get around the rational and bypass the conscious mind. It goes for the glide; where the brain is acting on instinct and emotion and never chocs down to a lower brain gear that will question anything at all. Years ago a friend landed a dream job working as a market researcher in London for the tobacco industry and later for a brand of rum. The money was huge; the perks ridiculous. After years of slumming it as a student she’d finally hit pay dirt. Except she felt like dirt. She left within a year saying she felt ‘soiled’ and ‘squalid’. Her job description could well have read ‘Find a group of young women, prod every insecurity and psychological weakness you can and find the way to exploit these to better sell them stuff that will do them harm.” She went into documentary film-making. The tobacco industry agrees that smoking does harm. They’re quite clear about that – which is great. Surely they shouldn’t have to submit to the indignity of plain packaging when their concern would be much better directed at picking up the health tab at their local DHB. The co-relation between smoking, cancer and heart disease is irrefutable. Despite the persistent myth that heart attacks are an old man’s disease the numbers of women who die from them are about 7 times higher than for breast cancer. If smoking were a rational choice no one would do it. If eating healthily was a rational choice the best growers’ market in the country – right here in Whangarei would be full of people buying enough fruit and cheap vege to supply the family with the requisite ‘5 a day’ for a week for the same price as a family pack of original chicken at KFC. Every piece of which consists of as much saturated fat as protein. But it’s not a rational choice and that’s why tobacco needs advertising. As do most businesses. This time last year I read an excellent piece by the Guardian columnist George Monblott on the high social cost of being awash in constant advertising. “Academic research suggests a link between advertising and both consumer debt and the number of hours we work. People who watch a lot of advertisements appear to save less, spend more and use more of their time working to meet their rising material aspirations. All three outcomes can have terrible impacts on family life. They also change the character of the nation. Burdened by debt, without savings, we are less free, less resilient, less able to stand up to those who bully us.” In short the more advertising – the less rational and the more slave-like we become. The tobacco lobby points to other countries who have rejected plain packaging. Global pillars of social justice and cohesion all; Indonesia, Russia, and Mexico. Let tobacco keep the packaging but stop socialist subsidising of the real cost of their product through the health system. That way there will be more in the public purse to fund our local health heroes like Buddhi Wilcox who runs the Food for Life Trust and who currently feeds hundreds of hungry kids every week right here in Whangarei for free.

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