More on cigarette packaging

NRT continues to support the “plain packaging” of tobacco products, a subject on which he and I disagree.

To [the tobacco industry], packaging is simply a means of circumventing advertising restrictions and of marketing to people they shouldn’t be marketing to. And the only way to stop it is to require plain packaging.

As much as I hate to keep having those evil capitalist asshats’ backs on this, I’m just not seeing a lot of real, it’s-an-evil-conspiracy basis to some of these arguments.

“But the packaging is appealing to children!”

Unless you raise your child in a media-free vacuum, (and remove all brand labels from all products, tech, food, and clothing in the house, and homeschool them) they are going to be influenced by modern capitalist marketing techniques.  They are going to be trained, as all of us have been trained, towards desiring certain products, finding certain tropes or messages (“this is what cool people do, this is what rich people wear, if you can’t check your Twitter every five minutes you’ll never know anything”) compelling, and basically being another cog in the machine.

If we’re seriously going to start saying “OH MY GOD!  MARLBORO USES RED PACKAGING BECAUSE FERRARI DOES!!!” like there’s not some big cultural shit going on about red being a sexy, powerful, masculine colour, or “OH MY GOD!  IT’S PINK TO APPEAL TO LITTLE GIRLS!” like pink isn’t used to symbolize harmless feminine playfulness to adult women … well, I’m just going to continue being sceptical about the anti-smoking lobby being anything more than a modern-day DEMON DRINK!!!-screaming Temperance movement.

“We banned their advertising, so now they just use the packet as advertising!”

Welcome to the 21st century, where brand is a slightly-powerful concept.  Where packaging, especially when your product is going to end up in giant wall displays next to a hundred other identically-sized packets, where people do get really attached to their brand or type (talk to a menthol smoker about their ability to pick green packs out of a crowd), is kinda a key marketing strategy for every product.

One cheapish brand of bread has recently repackaged itself to look basically identical to Molenberg, a more expensive, fancy-pants brand.  I personally cannot wait for the carbs police to try cracking down on that on the basis that “Quality Bakers is just using its packaging for marketing purposes!  Kiwi mums won’t realise that the product inside is CHEAPER and LESS ELITIST-LY WHOLEGRAIN-Y!!!”

And frankly, welcome to the world of legal consumer goods, where when you take away a company’s ability to advertise their legal product through conventional means, they find something else to do.

Like I said in my previous post:  if you really want to stop people smoking (or at least stop being half-assed with your rhetoric, because we all know Prohibition makes things sexier, including Steve Buscemi) just ban it.

“This study shows that the tobacco companies are deliberately targeting children!”

Nope.

Nope, it doesn’t.

At least, not from anything in the linked article.

It says kids find the packaging attractive (gosh, what was that first point I made again?).  That tobacco companies have acknowledged the, um, fairly obvious fact that their packaging is one of the few ways they can market.  It shows that enforced gender binaries are getting ’em good and early, with girls liking the “girly” smokes and boys liking the “manly” smokes (oh my gods, I bet you could even find a similar breakdown in adults legally permitted to purchase those products!)

But a shiny smoking gun of a memo saying “let’s get 10-year-olds hooked via the colour pink and cool flip-top heads!”?  No.  One has to at least hope the tobacco industry aren’t that stupid/arrogant these days.

Conclusion

Cigarettes are bad.

Marketing strategies which play on ingrained gender stereotypes and culturally-indoctrinated desires are also bad.

Philip Morris and BAT probably aren’t really crying themselves to sleep over kids getting hooked on their products.

But.

Cigarettes are legal.  Packaging “being attractive to kids” could just as easily be a fun bonus (it’s not like they’re slapping Dora the Explorer on there, it might alienate the current adult market.)  And requiring plain packaging is not going to magically stop any kid ever from starting smoking, given:

  • They’ll just start giving the cigarettes names that sound cool or work with the plain packaging, like “Marlboro Whites” or “BORN TO KILL”
  • They’ll just start printing the brand on the damn cigarette papers
  • Sales in branded tins and cigarette cases will rise
  • Oh, and smoking will still be that thing your parents can’t stand, that thing all the other guys at the restaurant do on break, that thing which gets you out of the office for ten minutes.

And it’ll still just scream loud and clear that, to paraphrase a recently-viewed episode of The West Wing, “you just don’t like people who do smoke.”  And you want to feel all warm and smug about making their addictions more difficult to cope with.

Good for you.

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  1. Pingback: Gold star for consistency, minus a million for still being a stupid idea « Ideologically Impure