Blow away the smokescreen

JOSHUA DRUMMOND
Last updated 14:36 21/05/2012

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Joshua Drummond

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OPINION: Hello, friends. I'm a tobacco lobbyist. I'm here to talk to you about how wonderful cigarettes are.

Now, I'd like to defuse a little tension I'm sure some of you might be feeling.

"Why," I hear you think, "tobacco lobbyists are the lowest of the low. They are parasites upon parasites, leeching off human misery, disease and death to bring cowardly politicians to heel. For decades the tobacco industry denied their products killed people, and they've never truly accepted it."

What do I say to that? Well. I accept it. That's right. Let's be honest here. Our products are the only legal things which, if used in the manner intended by the manufacturer, will kill you.

It's too bad cigarettes kill people horribly. I feel for them, I really do. I mean, we'd invest in producing a cigarette that didn't kill people, except that would cost too much. It's better for the shareholders to let our customers die. No offence, customers.

Now, a smoking death isn't nice and clean like stepping out in front of a swiftly moving bus. Deaths caused by smoking can be decades of drawn-out torment. You lie in hospital with your insides being consumed by tar and poison and cancer. Your veins are scorched with chemotherapy drugs. You cough and spit blood. I agree, it's not pretty. So why do we tolerate it?

Well, there are a few good reasons. The first is, naturally, that cigarettes are delicious. Ah, that first gasp of ammonia and tar! Feel your lungs dilate, opening the airways, the better to expel the smoke! Thrill to the rush of nicotine as it enters your bloodstream, crosses the blood-brain barrier, and tells your brain to produce dopamine!

Mmm. Nicotine. I could go for some of that right now. We in the cigarette industry love nicotine. That's why we increased the nicotine content in American brand cigarettes by 1.6 per cent a year between 1998 and 2005, and that's just in the United States.

Goodness knows what we're doing in developing countries, where there's practically no regulation and we can market to children!

Now, another important point is that cigarettes are cool. How cool? We've successfully turned a product produced by some of the largest corporations on Earth into the ultimate anti-establishment statement. Want to look like a total bad ass? Light up outside a cafe. Ash in the gutter. Flick your butt away carelessly.

You're so, so cool. Look at those parents staring at you angrily as your cigarette butt lands in their baby's pram. They're just jealous of how cool you are. Blow smoke at them.

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A wise man once said, "There are only two certainties in life: death and taxes". Well, tobacco companies deal in both!

If cigarettes arrived on the scene today, they'd be banned instantly.

A highly addictive product that kills people slowly and expensively?

Good one! But because we've been around a while, and we've grown to the point where we wield a rather ridiculous amount of power over regulators, we get away with it. The only caveat is that we're taxed.

Now, we don't actually mind being taxed. Oh, we kick up a fuss every time the Government hikes the price, but we secretly quite like it.

Why? Because it keeps our little racket legal. Now, the thing with taxes is this: they pay for your health system. Without the taxes you get from tobacco companies, how would you pay for the massive drain on the health system caused by smoking-related illness?

Well, my answer for that would be to privatise the health system, but that's an idea for another day. Tomorrow, hopefully, if ACT has its way.

The main reason to embrace cigarettes, though, is freedom. Oh, I don't mean actual freedom, like we'd have if smokers were encouraged to grow their own (relatively healthy) baccy, maybe flicking off the extra to their smokingly inclined neighbours. No, I mean the freedom for us to obfuscate, lobby and lie, to continue to downplay the fact that our products kill people, while portraying ourselves as the only possible perpetrators of a "responsible" tobacco trade.

We'll demonise any attempt to privately grow or sell tobacco, calling it "black-market trading", because it helps keep our legal cartel running, and keeps taxes flowing to the Government. God, I love being a tobacco lobbyist.

I shall close with a poem.

Shall I compare a cigarette to a Summer's day?

Cigarettes art more lovely and more temperate: So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives cigarettes, and this gives life to thee.

Joshua Drummond is a Hamilton freelance columnist who likes the idea of an honest lobbyist.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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