Plain talk about plain cigarette packs

16:00, Oct 24 2012

Spare a thought for the PR folk at British and American Tobacco. I mean, truly. Such a difficult job they have, trying to explain why a Government move to introduce plain packs for cigarettes is so unprincipled and unethical. That's why I've tried to help them in this regard, devoting today's blog to a plain language interpretation of some of their most recent posts on social network sites such as Twitter. Let's call it a Guide to BAT NZ's Alternative Reality:

"Plain packs sends a dangerous message that a Government can take away legitimate rights of companies" (October 21).

Translation: We at Big Tobacco are outraged about this. Imagine, a sovereign state being able to act so unilaterally. Here we are, going about our law-abiding business of trying to endanger as many lives as possible in pursuit of a quick buck and what happens? The Government starts questioning our right to profit from the suffering of others. Makes you wonder who they think they are.

"We have invested in our brands over many years and have a responsibility to shareholders to defend our right to use them" (October 20).

Translation: People complain that smoking causes cancer, that loved ones have been lost to smoking-related lung disease, even that passive smoke is harmful. Yet no-one seems able to look past their self-interest to the real concerns. People's bank balances are riding on this; jobs, fortunes. A future without our children smoking will mean the end of careers and business futures. Surely this is more important than a few lives?

"We agree that tobacco is harmful. We disagree that plain packs will work" (October 19).

Translation: It's a fair cop. For decades we refused to acknowledge the ill-effects of tobacco; we watched people die while we were duping them. It's also true that, in the 80s and 90s, we reckoned advertising restrictions weren't working either. We were wrong then, too; in fact we knew we were wrong. But this time? Well, actually we're trying to bullshit you again. Why would we be worried about our responsibilities to shareholders if we thought plain packs wouldn't "work"? 

"Are the next logical steps to force alcohol, fast-food, salty or sugary products into plain packs? (October 19)

Translation: Okay, we've only put this in for the hopelessly naive; the type of person who'd believe anything. If you give this any credibility, you probably think Lance Armstrong didn't dope, either. For those who can easily see through this nonsense may we quietly whisper in your ear that we understand. Alcohol and fast-food generally doesn't kill you when consumed sensibly. And no, that's right: there's no way of sensibly consuming our product.

"Just because you disagree with something, would you recommend banning it?" (October 15)

Translation: Again, we've taken a bit of licence here. No-one's seriously proposing prohibition, after all. Just plain packs, or, in other words, advertising regulation. But you know how it works, sometimes a little scaremongering can go a long way. You'll probably hear us ringing false alarm bells over the likelihood of black markets, as well. Don't blame us. If anyone's silly enough to believe it, it's worth a go.

"Should NZ adults be able to make their own informed decisions?" (October 15)

Translation: True, we weren't always as liberal with our politics but, you know; "needs must" and all that. Wasn't so long ago that people were making decisions to smoke based on our misinformation and greed. But now? Hey, we're putting our hand up. We were wrong to do that. Smoking is fiercely addictive and will kill people; we admit that now. All we're saying is that, if folk are still open to it, why shouldn't we be allowed to exploit them?


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