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It has long been accepted that every decent health improvement plan, from the humblest local education campaign right up to a comprehensive national tobacco control act, should end with a section on the need for constant monitoring and evaluation, followed up by adjustments to the policy if necessary. Few governments that survive the countless rounds in the heavyweight ring of anti-tobacco legislation seem to remember the bit about review, but not surprisingly, Australia is once again a model.
After just 10 years, the federal government is reviewing its Tobacco Prohibition Act. It might have been thought that tobacco companies, which are known to have more or less given up any idea of increasing business in Australia, might have the grace to keep quiet. But no—they may be dead, but they just won’t lie down. For years they protested that their products were harmless; then less harmful than the doctors said; then, well, harmful, but isn’t everything else? And now a variation on an old line: everyone knows it all anyway.
Mr John Galligan, director of corporate affairs for BAT (Australia), commenting recently on the government’s review plans, said: “We would contend there is universal understanding of the risks of smoking. Government surveys show there is a 98 per cent understanding. How much more do you burden the industry to communicate something the public is already aware of?” So that’s all right, then. No review needed, and certainly no tightening up of the act.
Naturally, the Australian government will give his contention all the attention it merits, all the way to the waste paper basket. In its review, it will want to examine the ways tobacco companies have been exploiting the new electronic media that has proved so effective for communicating with teenagers. The government will also want to know about the companies’ involvement with discos, fashion shows, and multi-product “niche marketing” schemes to get prime peer leaders to parties, sometimes clandestinely arranged only by telephone, with the lure of top musicians, and featuring cigarette handouts amid a galaxy of talent and glamour.
When tobacco executives make crass arguments like that, especially in a country that has made it amply clear it means business, who do they think they are fooling? Do they really believe some of it? And as for the unique scale of the epidemic their product causes, at times it is hard to avoid the question: do these people really not get it?