Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Smokers In Tasmania Face Arrest

Sweetness-Enhanced Cigarettes Now Have "More Flavours Than A Darrell Lea Hamper"

Apparently you could soon be arrested, and charged, in Tasmania for smoking in your car, if there are children present. It's probably the harshest anti-smoking law to be introduced in Australia, for the moment anyway.

Of recent there have been a few letters in newspapers, and anti-smoking lobbyists on television news, suggesting or demanding that smoking in public places be completely outlawed, and that even smoking in your own home, or car, when there are no children present, always be deemed worthy of arrest.

In fact, anti-smoking groups are lobbying the federal government for arrest-the-smoker laws to be increased across the whole nation.

Why then, asks Sydney University professor of public health, Simon Chapman, are the cigarette manufacturers treated so leniently? Why, Chapman asks, in an informative piece for Crikey (free subscriptions now available), can cigarette manufacturers use flavour enahancers and additives to make cigarette smoking more appealing to children and generally, well, tastier?

Australia has a tougher package of tobacco control laws than almost any nation, and falling smoking and lung-cancer rates to show for it. But despite this experience, Australian governments are still treating the endgame of tobacco control with kid gloves.

Soon Tasmanian police will be empowered to arrest adults smoking in cars carrying children if they refuse to butt out. While cars-with-children smoking bans and fines have the support of the public health community, getting ├╝ber-tough with smokers rather than the tobacco industry is hairy-chested nonsense.

Meanwhile, imagine how long it would take any government to pounce on a confectionary manufacturer trying to sell a chocolate hypodermic syringe to kids. The national Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy has taken two years to get around to agreeing to “consider” banning the importation of both fruit-and confectionary-flavoured cigarettes.

The minnow DJ Mix imported brand, which features a range of flavoured cigarettes that smell and taste like a sweet shop, are the soft target of its concern. Tellingly, even the tobacco majors like British American Tobacco are supportive.

But look at the ingredient information for Philip Morris, BAT and Imperial, where chemical-additive flavourings are listed which the companies are prepared to reveal under a current voluntary disclosure agreement with government.

Mainstream brands are pickled in the same sort of flavourants that DJ Mix is up-front about. The companies know that a spoonful of sugar helps the tobacco smoke go down with young people who, when starting to smoke, find the harsh taste and “mouth feel” of smoke a turn-off.

As I argued in 2005, if Australian governments act to stop fruit-flavoured products like DJ Mix because the company importing it is up-front in promoting it as a flavoured brand, how can they continue to allow mainstream brands with more flavours than a Darrell Lea hamper to be sold on the wink that these flavours are added -- but not flaunted on the pack and found only on an obscure website at the end of cyberspace?

Good question, Simon. Don't expect an answer any time soon. The federal government pulls in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tobacco taxes, while giving only a fraction back to anti-smoking and Quit programs. It's an addiction far too sweet to give up.