If, by chance or choice, you happened to be living in New Zealand and still wish to light a cigarette or two when mood takes you, it might not be as easy as simply lightening up whenever and wherever. Those days have long gone.
In years since every cool man and woman on, and off, silver screen smoked and dangerously handsome cowboy casually lit up a cigarette on the heel of his boot in Marlboro TV commercial, we have been all but bullied into understanding that smoking tobacco is dangerous. And indeed it is.
So is drinking alcohol, eating fatty, sugary and highly processed food, taking drugs, having unprotected sex, and, depending who you listen to, the whole myriad of other things. Most of which hold appeal for number of people, if not for any other reason but for the thrill of doing something ‘naughty’. Yours truly included. Not for the thrill, but for the freedom of personal choice. Because there is a fine line between personal choice and regulations of it.
I neither dispute nor doubt well researched, documented and publicized dangers and health hazards of smoking. On the contrary, I support the effort to make every teenager, every man and woman fully aware of its risks. My own daughter does not smoke because of those messages, even though I do. And for that I am immensely grateful.
I smoked my first cigarette at the age of 13. It was a ‘rollie’ my grandfather made. I still remember every detail of the ritual he performed to make rollies; the silver box with dented lid where he stored the golden, fragrant tobacco, old-fashioned lighter he had since the war and called it ‘fajercag’, super-thin cigarette-paper, and how he balanced it all on his lap while making rollies. No, he did not roll one for me. I stole it from him without his knowledge, and was a while before he found out what I was doing. He not only gave me a stern talking to, but called my grandmother to deal to me. And believe me she did deal to me! But smokes tasted like him. They smelt like our kitchen. And I smoked ever since.
My first jobs were in the offices where thickness of smoke in the room was proportional to the vigour of debates engaged in.
And then I arrived to New Zealand where nobody ever smokes inside any public building, including bars and pubs. Without the slightest hesitation I embraced the idea and never again smoked inside any building, including my own home. So rain or shine, if I want to smoke, it is strictly outside.
But every year it is getting little bit harder.
Initially it was enough to just go outside and light up. In case of rain, snow or generally bad weather one could stand in a doorway with doors firmly shut behind, to have at least some shelter.
There is a law now prohibiting smoking within certain number of meters from the public buildings, and signs enacted to alert you to it. Absolutely no smoking is permitted on the grounds of any school, University campus, public park, and hospital. Recently, a campaign was contemplated to ban smoking on the streets of Wellington. The idea made it to the national prime-time news. Smoking pollutes the air on the streets and give overall bad image to our shiny capital, viewers were told.
No wonder smokers hide behind rubbish containers, at the back of buildings and generally try to make themselves invisible. If not told outright how very silly and irresponsible they are, at the very least long, concerned looks are bestowed upon them. From total strangers who deem it their civil duty. Because it is for the poor smokers own good.
What do we call a group of people who are ostracized for ‘their own good’?
For the same ‘their own good’, prices of smokes in New Zealand are astronomical. This is because huge taxes are levied on smokes. As deterrent. Meanwhile the Government collects lucrative revenues from the poorest parts of society, as this is where most smokers come from. To buy over-priced smokes they go hungry, and send their kids to school without lunch. There is nothing to suggest the Government uses money collected from tobacco taxes to provide free school-lunches, or in some other way improve children’s welfare. So for whose ‘good’ is it then?
All those initiatives and campaigns are due to the Government’s commitment to have an essentially smoke-free country by 2025. No smoking in New Zealand!
We might have violence, (latest figures show one in four women in New Zealand are sexually assaulted before the age of 16, and one in three are sexually assaulted in their lifetime), child poverty, (230,000 New Zealand children live in severe and persistent poverty), unemployment, (as of September unemployment has risen to the highest in the last 13 years, with youth, those between 15 and 24 not in employment, education or training, at 13.4%), child abuse, (New Zealand has one of the highest rates of physical child abuse in the developed world), but there will be no smoking in New Zealand!
The last campaign is plan packaging. Plain packaging means the removal of all appealing factors on cigarette packets. This includes the stripping of all brand logos, trademarks, colour and designs on the outside and inside of the packs. If plain packaging comes into effect in New Zealand, even embossed logos and coloured filters on cigarettes themselves will be removed.
All cigarettes sold in New Zealand will be packaged in one generic type pack with a single dominant background colour, the brand name in small plain font and dominated by health warnings, including graphic pictures of destroyed lungs and alike.
The Australia is already introduced plain packaging. As of 1 December, all cigarettes sold in Australia will be in plain packs. This after the tobacco industry challenged the Government over the introduction of plain packaging laws, but lost as the High Court ruled in favour of plain packaging.
According to the World Health Organisation, plain packaging is effective in preventing smoking uptake and relapse in three main ways: by reducing the appeal of smoking, making health warnings more visible, and decreasing the misleading perception about smoking. In New Zealand the average age to begin smoking is 14, and plain packaging is designed to target those age groups by reducing the appeal of smoking.
Three main companies dominate New Zealand tobacco industry: British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris. Imperial packaging will not stop people smoking believes Imperial Tobacco since people smoke because they chose to so, not because of the packaging. There are now anti-plain packet views aired on TV. Their main message says: ‘We agree that tobacco is harmful. We disagree with plain packaging because it prevents companies using the legal branding they’ve created and invested in’.
The New Zealand tobacco industry will fight adamantly against the proposed law.
The big question is whether or not the plain packaging is going too far? Should alcohol and fast, unhealthy food come in plain package with graphic displays of clogged arteries and damaged livers?
The plain packs New Zealand website counters this by saying that ‘Tobacco cannot be compared to any other product. It kills one in every two users and is the only consumer product that kills when used exactly as the manufacturer intended’. I would have thought that consuming unhealthy food constitutes use exactly as intended.
Whether or not plain packaging will rid the country of smokers remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, millions of dollars will be spent on legal battles over the advertising rights and intellectual properties of tobacco giants with endless funds dedicated to legal fees.
I am now off to have a smoke stashed inside the dented silver box in the privacy of my back yard. Not because I support smoking in any way. But because I am free to make my own choice. And refuse to be made into a second class citizen because of it. At least for now.
- $20 for pack of smokes ‘not enough’ (stuff.co.nz)
- Public support tobacco plain packaging – survey (nzherald.co.nz)
- Complaints over tobacco ‘public awareness campaign’ (stuff.co.nz)
- Tobacco packaging: Call to scrutinise lobby groups’ claims (nzherald.co.nz)