A key strategy of tobacco control is "to try to keep tobacco in the news all year round" (1). And they prefer to use the darkest, coldest months to launch a blizzard of initiatives and press releases that'll get into turbo-drive a few days either side of Christmas and New Year. Expect to see the usual deluge of studies by academics with "doctor" or even "professor" in their title, all designed to support their view that we're awfully bad people who violate little children and cause adults to smell horrid when they're forced to pass "the gauntlet of smokers" at entrances of pubs and clubs.
Stoptober has gravitated to the Netherlands (2), ostensibly because it's such a hootin' hollerin' success in Britain. It certainly dominated television here, with Quest TV running their advert from the 1st of September. Noted a few familiar faces doing their bit, for a fee, to persuade us to "just quit".
Then there are the pharmacies with their poster of "little boy with black lungs". That's their attempt to nudge parents into "taking it outside". Every single pharmacy in my area has one stuck in their window, along with adverts about smoking cessation products. There's very serious money involved with this racket.
But there's a slight problem with little children adverts. I have no contact with anyone who's still at school, so it's irrelevant to me. It's the same with some warnings on tobacco packaging; I'm 100% dentures, so rotting teeth don't worry me one bit, nor could I care less if smoking harms your unborn baby. I suspect many women have a similar view of the one about men developing droopy peckers.
Were this a serious attempt to reduce our consumption, they'd arrange legislation to force retailers to stock male and female warnings in separate piles. But they themselves are not in the least concerned about targeting - and may even derive a degree of satisfaction when they see a discarded packet, because it's still doing what they intended; to be seen to be doing something about smoking.
It's similar in many respects to that equally idiotic American legislation that demands that car mirrors are engraved with the warning "objects in the mirror are closer than they appear" (3). To the best of my knowledge children from about age 3 are aware of the properties of mirrors and there's no ambiguity about it by the time young adults learn to drive and pass their test. It's a puerile gesture with the very obvious drawback that the part that carries the message is exactly at the height to make it difficult to see children, cats and dogs when reversing.
It's a similar story with all those "No Smoking" signs that business owners were forced to stick at the entrances to their premises. There may have been some justification in 2006 in Scotland, however they serve no purpose to businesses now. Yes some owners have removed them, and I admire them for doing so, but for the most part they remain until such time as businesses are told they can remove them. That day'll never come, it's another case of tobacco control being seen to be doing something
Fag pack warnings are the same. Every kid knows darned well all the claimed risks associated with smoking long before they leave primary school. Some things are past their sell-by date and any psychologist worth his/her salt would point out that change is the best way of getting attention. Some months I'd have no warnings on cigarette packs, only on their cellophane wrappers. Others I'd have tiny little ones - so the purchaser might be sufficiently curious as to read the message, whilst on other months I'd revert to the boring old standard fare with images and such. And because Britain is a cosmopolitan country and a high percentage of people from "ethnic minority communities" smoke, I'd want to see these warnings in a whole range of languages. If Edinburgh City Council sees fit to have all it's fliers printed in half a dozen languages, because there's a demand for it and it's seen to be politically correct, then why not the same with fag pack warnings? And I'd want to know what works best, but that calls for imagination, commitment and some degree of professionalism - and that's in short supply, as tobacco control employees work their way through the step by step users manual laid out by FCTC.
One reason for wanting to "keep tobacco in the news all year round" is to give the impression that it works and it's popular. No they're not interested in what smokers think, nor the great unwashed either. The people they want to convince are our legislators. Not your average MP - it's the rancid old farts in the House of Lords they're after. The ones who are nearing the end of their lives, the ones who have had serious operations, or have lost a spouse and - of course - the principled ones; the ones they had a hand in getting a cushy sinecure in the House of Lords, with all the titles and perks that go with it. They're the prime target, partially because they're real compliant, partly because they're suckers for awards and plaques, but mostly because they have the contacts and clout that help keep the financial spigots wide open.
Those Honourables have another charming trait; they still defer to "the expert" and they still believe these experts have considerable personal integrity. Unfortunately an awful lot of our Lords and Ladies have zero or, at best, only the most superficial experience of real life as seen by us plebs. And they're simplicity itself to con, like the Peer who swallowed that bumph that one young mother smokes "slim" cigarettes in the belief they might help her lose weight. She was a plant in support of Plain Packaging, the same as they use dozens of "supporters" to fire out hundreds of thank you emails for any speech, initiative or grant in their favour.
The technique's as old as the hills and there's nothing like what seems to be a popular and worthy cause to galvanize a purposeless Peer, Lord, Dame, Baroness or Lady. Dutifully these Honourables laid the groundwork to reverse engineer the legislation to introduce Plain Packs at any time any government choses to do so.
(Checked on when plain packs were first mentioned. Lord Patel did that back in 2009 when he laid out the template (4). Lord Hunt, Lord Faulkner and Baroness Hughes did their bit on the smoking in cars with kids (5), while Lord Darzi's been wheeled out to push for a ban on smoking in parks in London (6).)
And they still believe the BBC is impartial and does a thoroughly spiffing job of producing quality content that's the envy of the world. So when the BBC aired its two part documentary "Burning Desire: The Seduction of Smoking" in May and June of this year (a brutally expensive piece that took months to produce, by an "award-winning journalist" called Peter Taylor and aired in prime time), they probably felt that warm, cuddly glow that the entire nation would be glued to their seats, dutifully captivated by the engaging subject matter. They were not, they saw it for what it was - blatant propaganda; 2.9% of the viewing population bothered to watch the first part, while only 2.8% could stomach the second part (7)!
Peter Taylor is certainly not an impartial, safe pair of hands; he's a life long anti-smoking zealot. In 1975 he was nominated for a BAFTA award for his documentary "Dying for a fag". He then went on to produce "Licence to Kill; Ashes to Ashes" in 1976 followed by "Death in the West. The Marlboro Story" for ITV. He then switched to the BBC and churned out "A Dying Industry" in 1980 and "The Habit the Government can't Break" in 1985. He even tried his hand at writing, with a 384 page book about it in 1984 called "Smoke Ring: The Politics of Tobacco" (8). It wasn't a best seller and is now only available second hand. Last time I looked, Amazon had a few for the princely sum of $2.99 (that's the advantage of doing it in hardback - libraries buy them, hence 30 years on they dump them on Amazon, mostly unread).
Nevertheless Peter has cottoned on to the advantages of doing his bit for the establishment. His latest award, a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his outstanding contribution to journalism, was arranged in February 2014; about the same time he was well on into his plain packs exposé! Quid pro quo, you scratch my back and I'll give you "quality content". Good on 'yer Pete! (And there's lot's more where that came from - funding, paid trips abroad, and awards; shed loads of awards, so we can expect many more hours of prime time "documentaries" from our Pete!)
That documentary is one tangible measure of the popularity of tobacco control and of plain packaging, they're about as popular as genital warts. Not many legislators understand this and certainly no Honourables will admit to, nor give a flying fart about something as prosaic as winning hearts and minds. Too slow for them, so why bother when they can engineer legislation - as deemed essential by the "experts" in Tobacco Control!
Fortunately we're not alone in seeing through the hype. Saw this fly poster in a Close in Edinburgh. The background's the packaging for one of Scotlands' favourite tea cakes... Tunnock's Milk Chocolate Marshmallows (9)! Yup, give the infantile the ammo and they'll ban everything!
Ban everything fly poster. Edinburgh 2014.