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Cheers - AE

Friday, 30 April 2010


The federal government's campaign against smokers just stepped up a couple of gears with the recent announcements that cigarettes were going up more than $2 per pack of thirty (as of last night) - brought forward out of spite to fuck up people who were buying extra smokes now to stockpile - and that plans are being made to completely debrand all cigarette and tobacco products. Yes, you thought it was bad enough that the British nannies are getting worked up about a fucking barcode, the knobbers here are getting their cocks in a knot about the colours and designs on the packets.*
Needless to say this isn't going down too well with the tobacco companies, who have raised the interesting argument that being prevented from using their logos amounts to property confiscation. They've got a point there, but newsflash for both sides: I smoked for years and never once gave a shit about what the packets looked like, and I'm not the only one. This was partly because I often handrolled and kept my baccy in a pouch but mostly because when I changed brands it was invariably from having scrounged a ciggie off someone else and found that I preferred it to what I'd been buying up till then. For the same reason advertising and sports sponsorship, when they still could, was equally irrelevant. It's kind of like being offered a beer or a glass of wine at someone else's house and mentioning that it was a nice drop and what's it called and where can you buy it - in the sense that it's advertising at all it's word of mouth advertising and simultaneously out of the control of the manufacturer while costing them absolutely nothing. Forcing them to stop wasting money on advertising to smokers like me (and most others I've known) who learned the brands by smoking each others' fags will have done the eeeeeevil tobacco companies a favour. I suspect forcing them to stop wasting money on periodic redesigns of logos and packets will have a similar effect.

I also suspect the prediction of cutting the numbers of smokers to 10% of adults or 87,000 will quit this year are optimistic. For one thing tobacco grows quite well here in Australia, and if Kevin Rudd and the bansturbators believe the black market in chop-chop - illegal tobacco - isn't tumescent with delight at its legal competition being forced to massively increase prices they're fucking dreaming. The point that when the legal product is ridiculously overpriced many people simply switch to the far cheaper illegal alternative is made repeatedly in this article:
"My corner store sells me half a kilo of chop chop under the counter for $70," says a hard-core smoker in Geelong, who does not want to be named. "That makes me 400 cigarettes and costs me less than half it would to buy them legitimately."

Sydney University professor Renee Bittoun runs Australia's only dedicated smoking cessation clinics in two of Sydney's hospitals. She believes illegal tobacco, both locally grown and imported, is widespread and could account for a quarter of all tobacco being smoked in Australia.

Bittoun fears that the government's increase in excise will further increase illegal tobacco's market share, doing even more damage to the lungs of those who inhale its smoke.

"It is not hard to grow and, given it looks like big spinach, might not normally attract much attention. I have been told the Tax Office loses $400 million a year in excise due to illegal crops. Given the size of government excise, chop chop is very cheap and it is often sold under the counter by weight by unscrupulous tobacconists, grocers and even service stations."

She says that although the regulated industry is gone, farmers can easily plant tobacco in an an isolated back paddock.
Wow. $400 million? Oh, wait, it might actualy be a lot more than that.
According to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report that was commissioned by the tobacco industry, illegal tobacco now accounts for a staggering 12.8 per cent of total tobacco consumption in Australia, resulting in a $624 million revenue loss for the federal government.
And why?
Former Australian Customs investigator Richard Janeczko says tobacco smuggling has become as big a problem as the smuggling of drugs, weapons and wildlife ... [and that] when governments raise the value of goods, such as cigarettes, law enforcement agencies worldwide have found they have had to step up their efforts to stop criminals flooding the market with illegal products.
See, Kev? This guy understands. Why is it so difficult for you and the bansturbators? And it gets worse, because having put legal tobacco out of the acceptable price range and driven some of those who want to carry on smoking into buying chop-chop instead you lose them forever. Chop-chop will almost certainly always be cheaper as long as governments remain paternalist and authoritarian, and once people start buying at half the price how many will go back if you ease off on them later? Some, yes, but many will continue buying chop-chop instead. On the face of it Rudd's claims of an extra $5 billion revenue over four years seem fairly reasonable based on the average smoker going through about four packs a week (bigger packs here than the UK remember) but it does seem to assume that the problem of illegal tobacco will not simply increase, and that flies in the face of all experience. But I imagine chop-chop makes a pretty shitty tasting smoke and that many users will continue to buy legal tobacco, albeit in smaller quantities than at present. And of course this suits the government just fine. Not only would they still be getting some income but they can point to the decreased consumption of regulated tobacco as if it's the only kind there is and claim a great victory for their policies.

Do you know, I think I hate them.

* Actually I have a vague memory that debranding has already been suggested in the UK. I think Australia is likely to be first to actually do it though.
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