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Tobacco control often meets fiendish opponents in dark alleys waiting to crush any policy which might affect tobacco sales. We’ve torn up the Marquis of Queensbury rulebook for countless bare knuckle engagements with the tobacco industry, its acolytes in the bar and hospitality industries, motorsport, and any variety of desperate causes which fear letting go the tobacco sponsorship dollar. But no textbook of tobacco control advocacy could ever have prepared us for the unexpected opponents who stormed the postboxes of the Australian Health Department with their submissions to its recent enquiry into the operation of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act.
From their basements, dens, and backyard sheds they came, wiping the glue from their fingers and putting aside their fine bristled paint brushes to take up their pens to protest the heinous injustice wrought upon the noble pursuit of collecting historical model cars by Australia’s total ban on tobacco advertising. Of 400 submissions received by the government, 331 were from model car enthusiasts bemoaning their inability to buy or trade model cars displaying tobacco advertising livery from the golden age of tobacco sponsored motor racing in Australia.
A Google search on “tobacco advertising Australia model cars livery” turned up details of the enthusiasts’ battle plans, replete with a naked attempt to win the affection of Australia’s seven state and federal health ministers by sending them “a batch of 1:18th HDT A9X hatchbacks fully decorated with all logos including Marlboro.” With each car worth a reported $A168, a “batch” is likely to fall well outside government guidelines for the non-declaration of gifts (lower limit $A300). We expect the gifts were simply too tempting for some politicians, and can sense the stench of forthcoming political resignations in the corridors of parliaments.
Trevor Young, the director of Biante Model Cars (www.biante.com), whose club boasts 35 000 members, sent the models to the politicians. Trevor’s sense is that model car collecting is a pursuit so noble that it should be understood to be above the reach of laws designed for ordinary mortals: as he wrote to the health minister in April 2003, “our replicas which are marketed solely by specialist model stores, should not be considered as toys for the masses.”
If Trevor’s impassioned pleas fell on deaf ears at the health ministry, so did those from health agencies about a rather more serious issue, systematic breaches of the law by the tobacco industry. Despite receiving voluminous complaints about tobacco companies’ use of stealth, buzz and viral marketing, the health minister declared the Act in need of no reform.