In recent months, there has been a renewed initiative by most governments to make it costlier to light up a cigarette. In Australia, not only has excise duties increased, cigarettes can only be sold at designated areas and, since December 2011, they have to come in plain packaging, forcing all cigarette manufacturers to present their goods in khaki boxes with shrunken logos and a graphic health message.
The argument whether increasing taxes do significantly reduce the incidence of smoking has been with us for ages. Some have not been convinced, but irrefutable data has just been released which showed that in the US, when President Obama signed the tax hike — the biggest to take effect in his first term — on his 16th day in office, reversing two vetoes by the previous President Bush (causing the federal cigarette tax to jump from 39 cents to $1.01 per pack on April 1, 2009) the net result was, as reported by USA Today, a historic drop in smoking, especially among teens, poor people and those dependent on government health insurance.
Most impressively, about 3 million fewer people smoked last year than in 2009, despite a larger population, according to surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These data are most certainly going to spur more countries to implement this form of social engineering via taxation, what with the economic recession resulting in declining revenues for the tax-man.
However, while most of us acknowledge the health hazards of smoking, increasing taxes may lead to newer problems. Increased smuggling, tax evasion, counterfeiting are challenges that law enforcement agencies have to handle effectively so that the ultimate objective is achieved. The tendency for smokers to downgrade to cigars (not necessarily more cost-efficient!) or cheaper brands will not reduce the incidence of smoking. Hence the necessity of concurrent health education campaigns.
The last-mentioned is an often under-estimated weapon, particularly when the stand of most cigarette companies is “We don’t build our business on persuading people to smoke or trying to stop people from quitting. We believe that if you want to quit, you should.”
If you were a smoker and you had to make a choice between the following, which would you choose?
Chances are you’ll go for the one on the right- because you would believe it to be healthier and easier to give up.These confirm the results of a survey which showed that subtle branding on cigarette packets are misleading smokers into believing some products are less harmful than others.
The truth is that all cigarettes are equally hazardous, regardless of what colour the pack is or what words appear on it. This is part of a marketing ploy by cigarette companies to give a false sense of reassurance to consumers that really do not exist.
And the authorities are coming in hard on this mis-information – since 2002 it has been illegal under EU legislation for manufacturers to use trademarks, text or any sign to suggest that one tobacco product is less harmful than another. This includes terms such as “low tar“, “light” and “mild“. In the US since 2006, after a historic 7-year court trial, the US Department of Justice stopped America’s big cigarette makers from using similar terms.
Just as well..cardiologists like myself have seen enough of the ravages due to smoking to call it the public murderer number 1.
And to my friend who said that low-tar cigarettes were ‘okay’, let me remind him not to forget about nicotine (the amount of which is unaltered in such cigarettes) and its terrible effects on the heart and blood vessels.
See my other postings on smoking:
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You can sense the tide of opinion against smoking in the last year or so. It started off with a ban on smoking in public last October in the world’s third largest market for cigarettes, with up to 250 million smokers, India.
The ban applies to all public places, including restaurants, bars, offices, airports and even bus stops, though there will be exceptions made for larger establishments that set up separate smoking rooms. In an effort to clamp down on a habit that kills an estimated 1 million people every year, the government put in action a ban that carries a fine of 200 rupees (USD 3) – more than the average person’s daily wage.
Now, Turkey, which has one of the largest number of smokers in terms of percentage of the population( 20 million out of 72) has extended an existing ban to cover all bars, cafes and restaurants. BBC News reported that local authorities have hired thousands of extra staff to track down smokers and impose fines amounting to 69 liras (USD 45).
“We are working to protect our future, to save our youth,” said Health Minister Recep Akdag.
What I fail to understand is why other developing countries cannot do the same, when the big boys have already done so. Lack of political will? If so, newly-elected government leaders should put banning smoking high on their list of priorities because the tide of change has come and its time to act against this public murderer Number One! (see my previous posting “Smoking..Its Not Cool Anymore”)
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As more and more countries join on the bandwagon to plaster graphic pics on cigarette packets in an attempt to reduce the numbers of smokers, some are questioning whether such measures are indeed successful. Well, there’s no need to go further..take a look at these figures from the United States’ CDC:
Its taken the Americans 40 years to reduce by half the number of smokers..and this in spite of the introduction of one of the nation’s strictest bans on smoking in public places by the state producing the most tobacco in the US – North Carolina.
Some blame the slow reduction in the number of smokers to tobacco companies’ subtle strategies in fighting for their cause – sports sponsorship,adverts targeting teens and the like – but the real cause in the US is that Federal Agencies and public health advocates cannot regulate tobacco use, just like it can for drugs and breakfast cereals.
But this will not be for long..the US Senate will debate over the next few weeks giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products. Some points include:
• The FDA needs to approve claims of “reduced harm” by the industry, which is already introducing a new generation of supposedly less dangerous products.
• Ingredients in tobacco products need to be revealed to the government — a big improvement over the current situation, where the public is in the dark.
• The FDA will mandate larger warning labels, curtail marketing to children, and ban the use of labels such as “light” and “mild.”
Tobacco companies, which have mastered the art of marketing deception into a fine art, will probably snigger a bit as they know the FDA is already overloaded with work ,and such new regulations aren’t going to lessen the burden. However, word has it that the extra costs needed to regulate smoking will be passed back to the tobacco industry!
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Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School can identify which kids will end up smoking by asking them 2 questions:
- How easy is it for you to get cigarettes?
- Do you have friends who smoke?
If the answers are ‘yes’, then it is likely that they will end up smoking later in high school.
I guess it boils down to identifying this target group so that antismoking measures can be implemented.
Speaking of which, I came across this uniquely-designed smoking lounge with a ceiling mural sent to me by e-mail (source unknown) :
Just in case you didn’t know that nicotine is the main culprit for heart disease and tar is the one that causes cancer; or that tobacco contains over 19 known cancer-causing chemicals and more than 4,000 other chemicals, there’s a single-pager on the effects of smoking here.
Want to avoid cancer? What’s the most important lifestyle measure that you can do?
Take a look at the following diagram from WHO:
It tells us two things:
- 40% of cancers are preventable.
- The single most lifestyle measure is..you guessed it..stop smoking.
The big headache for health prevention experts worldwide is how to implement effective control programs, taking into account the above two facts.
So it was quite something else when the BBC reported that the National Health Service was going to implement an innovative scheme to provide GBP 150 per person to buy groceries in return for quitting smoking for 12 weeks. Read this here.
So how are they going to know if someone had actually quit smoking? Well, they have to report weekly to nominated chemists and undergo a carbon monoxide breath test. If it is negative, then they will be paid weekly. Sounds pragmatic, doesnt it?
Some quarters may yell “bribery and corruption” …but, at least, it may prove more effective than the millions of dollars of anti-smoking ads that are being poured into the mass media which so far has brought questionable results..