Big Tobacco's Recipe for Success
Kapil Khatter (Family doctor) believes plain packs are the answer. He also believes the evil tobacco companies are directly responsible for the decision to shelve the idea. He doesn't like their tactics, although when he describes them, it sounds a lot like the tactics that the Tobacco Control Industry themselves use.
If Phillip Morris is indeed Satan, there appears to be no shortage of people willing to sleep in the devil's bed. Confidential documents leaked recently about the tobacco company's British lobbying efforts reveal just how many bed-mates the maker of Marlboro cigarettes has.
Lobbying. It's only ok when we do it. How many 'bed-mates' does the Tobacco Control Industry have? Who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health? The Tobacco Control Industry lobbies mercilessly, and until recently, almost 100% effectively. When the Tobacco Companies lobby to protect their interests and their consumers against draconian legislation, then it's wrong to lobby.
In its successful effort to stop plain cigarette packages from ruining years of expensive branding work, Phillip Morris put its campaign in the hands of lobbyist Lynton Crosby who just happens to have been the ruling Conservative Party's election strategist. The result was a comprehensive plan to block the plain packaging law, legislation the government subsequently decided not to pursue.
I won't go back over the whole Lynton Crosby thing, it was determined long ago that he and his organisation had nothing to do with the decision on plain packs. However that paragraph is so far from the truth it's almost libellous.
Here's your chance to learn from their success. If you are cooking up a plan to stop public health measures that are bad for your business, try this recipe from the world's largest tobacco company.
Read on. This is going to be good.
First do some polling that asks questions angled to work in your favour. Would you rather have your government do this one small thing that will decrease tobacco addiction and save lives, or would you rather they focus on the economy, education, unemployment and other sundry policies? How many will support plain packaging if it means the government would have no time for the economy, education and unemployment? And do that push poll (a poll actually meant to influence people not just get information) mostly in the swing ridings crucial to the government.
Then you commission other research, scientificky studies framed just right to help you make your case. You roll out your poll results, follow them up with some research results. You use them to craft key messages, soundbites, emotion-laden statements meant to create doubt, to confuse, to delay - because if you can't beat them, delay them.
Every Tobacco Control Industry study, press release, scientific conclusion I have ever seen (And I've seen a lot), follows that same template. Leading questions, foregone conclusions, studies to fit the desired outcome. If you're not sure, please do some research. There are way too many examples for me to go through here.
A good place to start would be to check out some of the twaddle on this site, or if you can stomach it, the videos here. If you want to see leading questions designed to elicit a specific response, the reactions to plain packs on those videos are prime examples.
While you're doing that you get ready for the government consultations. You get really ready, with enough submissions to choke a dozen bureaucrats. According to the Guardian/Observer, holder of the leaked documents, Phillip Morris arranged for submissions from 1,000 workers concerned about their jobs, 6,000 smokers surprisingly concerned more about packaging than their lungs, and a full 10,050 from retailers unsurprisingly concerned it will hurt sales, which is exactly what it's meant to do.
And how many submissions did the Tobacco Control Industry submit, or are theirs acceptable? One thing that is never mentioned is the 500k responses from ordinary people who thought plain packs was bollocks. Maybe the tobacco industry has to get as many submissions in as they can because they are likely to be ignored.
They had another 950 submissions lined up from industry (surely that part was easy) and 40 really smart comments from think tanks. The think tank part had to be simple as well since Phillip Morris has been funding UK right wing think tanks all along. As an added bonus, advertisers were onside too. There's not a lot of money in designing plain packaging or in magazine ads for products without sexy branding.
Again, mirrored by tobacco control, only they also have a large number of scientists on board who have sold their souls for grant money. Tobacco Control is a thriving industry that spends millions of tax payers money and a fortune in donations from Big Pharma. Because they have successfully painted themselves as the good guys, there is a lot of money in plain packs for them.
Then you reach the politicians, you reach every single one of them. If you can't brief them in their offices you invite them to fancy receptions, perhaps at the Conservative Party's own conferences the way Phillip Morris did. You feed them drinks; you feed them your lines.
Yawn. It's only acceptable when we do it, yadda yadda. The TCI has it's snout much further in the lobbying trough. I refer you again to the APPG on Smoking and Health.
And then you contact the journalists, the "go-to" reporters as the tobacco company puts it, the one's friendliest to your interests.
Bollocks! When a tobacco company manages to get an advert published it becomes huge news. That's because the only side of the debate given any publicity in the press is the TCIs side. There is only one side of the debate that the press are interested in.
You help them out with an extra spokesperson by funding your own "grassroots" organization, like Hands Off Our Packs to protest your demonization. The more people you can get to sell their souls the better.
Grassroots in scare quotes. In reply to my comment on the article, Kapil tells me that an organisation cannot be considered grassroots if it takes tobacco company money. Why not, I ask you? The tobacco companies didn't set up HOOP, people did. Why shouldn't they take a donation from a company who supports their cause. (If they even did? Anyone know?)
The result is a full court press, a seemingly irresistible force that no one can afford to match.
The only irresistible force until recently, has been those who have set out to bully and denormalise smokers. As you know, the campaign was originally for a non smoking carriage on a train etc. Now we have a divided society, millions in tax wasted, smokers cast out and science sold out. Who is the biggest force there? The tobacco industries who have been soundly beaten over the years? I think not.
In Britain, tobacco companies have the advantage of an even righter wing or at least more libertarian party, UKip, the UK Independence Party, a party dedicated to smokers' rights. With UKip making the Conservatives edgy, and the tobacco lobby on DEFCON 1, it's not surprising they won this battle.
I think it was surprising and certainly about time. I am also thankful that we do have a more Libertarian party on our sides.
I can't pretend that Phillip Morris' arguments are all smoke and no hellfire. They surely are concerned that plain packaging will make it easier to counterfeit their products, make them easier to smuggle. Anti-fraud experts are skeptical of the claim though, saying the present packs are easy enough to copy. Amanda Sandford of Action on Smoking and Health, a UK public health charity, points out that security features, markings on the cigarette packages, help prevent smuggling, and those would still be on the plain packs.
They would indeed but there is one inescapable fact. Packs are currently all different with a lot of design on them. It may not be easier to forge the new plain packs, but if you only have to forge one of them, it has to be a lot easier for the criminals. Security features or not, you can't get around that.
There isn't definitive proof that plain packaging would be effective, but what studies have been done indicate it should be. Early research in Australia also suggests that plain packaging might be making a difference, making cigarettes less attractive to smokers, but that data is really preliminary.
There is no proof, no evidence base and no science. I alluded to the 'studies' earlier. Please go check some out if you've not seen them already. The Australian research has also been thoroughly debunked. It was a phone poll to 500 people. That says it's bollocks even without the debunking. It was hastily put together to try and show that plain packs do work after our government shelved the idea. It was laughable.
According to Action on Smoking and Health, 200,000 children start smoking in the United Kingdom every year, children between 11 and 15 years of age. Phillip Morris doesn't take much responsibility for this, but it's time the British government did.
Neither Phillip Morris or the Government are responsible. An underage child using an age restricted product is a parental issue only (And maybe a legal one). Nothing more.
If plain packaging is likely to keep fewer kids from starting, keep fewer smokers from continuing, it seems worth trying. It might not be the best thing for those in the business of making or selling this highly addictive and really harmful drug. But it will likely be best thing for the rest of us.
No child has ever started smoking anywhere, ever because of the packaging. Damaging business and jobs on the off chance that a few kids might not start smoking is not justifiable.
It's not about health anyway. Plain packs will not prevent children from taking up smoking and everyone knows it. Plain packs are designed to make adult smokers stand out and be derided in polite society.
I'm sorry family doctor, you need to stick to helping your patients and not *ahem* lobbying for plain packs.