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Australia: smoking “K . . .s”

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    Philip Morris (PM) chief Geoffrey Bible, an Australian resident in the USA, wrote to the incoming chief executive officer of PM Australia, David Davies, in March 1993 “there is a lot of nervousness on the food side at our including them [Kraft] publicly as part of the corporate body when we are dealing with contentious issues. Kraft is the manufacturer of one of the household darlings of Australia, namely Vegemite [a black, yeast based spread]. Every Australian is born with a jar of Vegemite in his/her hand and would never believe that it is owned by a US company. Kraft Australia is not anxious that a lot of noise be made about this...”1

    In March this year, Kraft Australia got very anxious indeed. Australian folk hero entrepreneur and air balloon adventurer Dick Smith launched a new brand of peanut butter, with a sales pitch emphasising that the product was made in Australia and that all profits would stay in the country. He prepared a television advertisement where, in one hand, he held jars of Kraft peanut butter, and in the other, a pack of Philip Morris's biggest selling Australian brand (overall and with children), Peter Jackson. Smith selected a pack with the prominent health warning “Smoking Kills” on the top. He said to the camera “So when you buy these [the peanut butter] you are supporting a company which kills our kids. But we're fighting back. It's with our own peanut butter. It has fantastic quality and taste. And the wealth stays here, giving our children and grandchildren a future.”

    All television advertisements in Australia have to be cleared through the television industry's Federation of Australian Television Stations (FACTS). FACTS told Smith that he must have the Peter Jackson pack “pixelated” out so it could not be identified, and the word “kills” bleeped out. Smith agreed under great public protest, generating widespread news coverage from news programmes rushing to editorialise on the stupidity of the pack saying that smoking kills, but Smith not being allowed to utter the profanity about a particular brand.

    In Australia, four letter words beginning with “f” are bleeped out when used in television material screened before 9 pm. So when my 17 year old son saw the advert on television, he asked me “So, is Dick Smith saying that cigarettes f . . . our kids?” Precisely.


    All articles written by David Simpson unless otherwise attributed. Ideas and items for News Analysis should be sent to David Simpson at the address given on the inside front cover.