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Cigarettes and cereal just don’t mix

24 September 2011 1,484 views 2 Comments

Cigarettes and cereal just don’t mix

The supermarket or convenience store is no place for age-restricted products to be sold.

IT may not be politically correct to say so but I have some sympathy for the position in which the tobacco industry finds itself.

Cigarette companies are off to the High Court to attempt to preserve copyright against legislation that stops them from using it to brand their cigarette packets. Which, to a degree, is fair enough. If the product is a legal one, they should be able to exercise their copyright over it. Otherwise, why else would they bother to go through the expensive copyrighting process?

There are many companies and individuals in Australia who don’t approve of smoking and don’t like what it’s doing to the health system but are concerned that if the government can extinguish copyright on health grounds, they might try to remove it for other reasons.

A far better approach would be to abandon the attack on copyright as a means of controlling smoking and use the proven method of restricting point of sale. Philosophers and social planners have long recognised that the way to reduce consumption of any product in society is to restrict it as much as possible without banning it. Blanket bans on popular products create a black market that almost always end up being smarter than the advertising industry in penetrating the marketplace.

So how can we effectively reduce point of sale of cigarettes without creating a de facto ban? Well, for a start, we’d get them out of supermarkets, service stations and convenience stores. It’s a reasonable suggestion that children develop a more benign attitude towards smoking when they see an exchange of money for cigarettes in these outlets involving parents, older siblings or other influential adults.

The move to restrict point of sale would be popular with most non-smokers, many of whom regard the sale of cigarettes alongside grocery items at the checkout counter as being tantamount to drug dealing in public. This proposal also would ensure minors working in supermarkets, service stations and convenience stores were not selling tobacco products, which is difficult to police under present laws and in some states is not even illegal.

So where should tobacco be sold? Why not limit it to age-restricted premises? This is so logical it’s amazing it seems not to have been raised previously by Australian governments. Well maybe it has, but was discreetly placed in the “too hard” tray.

The restricted or adults-only premises network in Australia is a significant one. There are 3500 to 6000 pubs, taverns and bar businesses in Australia, depending on whether you go by the last census figures or those of the Australian Hotels Association. There are also 1000 adult sex shops, 500 nightclubs and about 600 tobacconists and herbal suppliers. All up, there may be 10,000 adults-only venues in Australia that could be used for an adults-only approach.

Because cigarette vending machines are often in family areas of pubs, my proposal might limit sales in some of these venues. And there’s no doubt that restricting venues for tobacco sales would slightly inconvenience many smokers in that they would have to make a special trip for the purpose of purchasing cigarettes. However this would have many helpful implications for lowering people’s consumption rates. A special trip requires more planning and more consideration of the purchase. Restricting the sale of cigarettes to adults-only destinations also means consumption would be better regulated and the provision of health information targeted more succinctly.

Obviously the supermarkets and convenience stores will hate this proposal. Although they don’t make a lot of money on cigarettes on a per packet basis, cigarettes bring people into their premises. Children observe and absorb this pulling power.

For the same reasons I’ve outlined for tobacco, I don’t think it’s appropriate to have alcohol on sale in supermarkets. I don’t agree with banning either product and I think that for many, but certainly not all, Australians, consuming alcohol has a useful place in society. But alcohol and cigarettes should not be available in a space that sells food and grocery items. We have thousands of pubs and bottle shops in the country and most supermarkets are a stone’s throw from one of these outlets. The claim that supermarkets and convenience stores will go broke without selling smokes and booze needs to be scrutinised.

If supermarkets, for example, can’t make profits selling tens of thousands grocery lines, they need to reconsider their business model.

And why do our supermarket giants, Coles and Woolworths, allow children to roam their liquor stores, which often are located just outside the checkouts?

In what seems to be a sop to the anti-alcohol lobby, Woolies now stocks its own brand of alcohol-free mouthwash! What a diversion from the incontrovertible fact it is one of the leading retailers of alcohol in the country. Recently, governments, police and health professionals have clearly linked inner-city violence, including physical and sexual assault, to the 24/7 sale of alcohol in clubs and bars in places such as Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle. Similarly, it would be fascinating to see statistics on the correlation between community and domestic violence and the availability of alcohol from our supermarkets.

Both the Coalition and Labor’s policies on the sale of alcohol and tobacco are partisan and self-interested. Neither government nor opposition wants to lose the enormous tax revenues involved. Health Minister Nicola Roxon puffs her chest out and roars at the tobacco companies, holding up a generic cigarette packet like a crucifix. This is mere political posturing.

If Roxon were serious about bringing smoking rates down she would not bother tinkering with side issues such as packaging. She’d remove cigarette sales from the main retail outlets and smoking rates would drop overnight.

If the nation can have laws on media ownership that say you can’t own and control this television station if you own and control this newspaper, why shouldn’t there be some legislative restrictions stating that, if you sell tobacco and alcohol, you can’t also sell food and grocery items? It’s time we sold adults-only and age-restricted products such as alcohol and tobacco from adults-only and age-restricted premises.

Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 35 books, most recently the co-authored novel Fools’ Paradise: Life in an Altered State and his memoir, My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey.

The Weekend Australian

September 24 -25, 2011

2 Comments »

  • Ann Oui said:

    Australian Sex Party Tackles Booze, Cigs at Point of Sale
    By Ann Oui
    Sep 27th, 2011 09:00 AM

    AUSTRALIA—The issues embraced by the Australian Sex Party are certainly not limited to sex. In previous announcements as well as on its website, the first and only political party of its kind has staked out strong positions on drugs, euthanasia, health, religion, education and other issues of import to Australians. Now it is weighing in on alcohol and cigarettes—in particular, the point of purchase sale of these adults-only items.

    This weekend Robbie Swan, the Party’s public officer, sent out an announcement in support of historian and columnist Dr. Ross Fitzgerald, who has written a recent column in the Australian arguing that “cigarettes and alcohol should be taken out of supermarkets and convenience stores and put into adults only, age-restricted premises.”

    In his column, titled “Cigarettes and cereal just don’t mix,” Fitzgerald argues that instead of trying to battle the tobacco companies by going after their copyrights, which is what Health Minister Nicola Roxon is currently doing, she should instead attack them at the point of purchase.

    “If Roxon were serious about bringing smoking rates down she would not bother tinkering with side issues such as packaging,” wrote Fitzgerald. “She’d remove cigarette sales from the main retail outlets and smoking rates would drop overnight.”

    As mentioned, Fitzgerald is not saying that the sale of cigarettes should be banned outright, but that the place of their sales should shift from grocery stores and other similar retail shops to adults-only premises such as pubs, taverns, nightclubs, adult sex shops and tobacconists and herbal suppliers, of which there are about 10,000 such outlets throughout the continent.

    He makes the exact same argument with respect to alcohol sales, with the added incentive that limiting their 24/7 availability might work to curtail community and domestic violence, which he believes shares a correlation with the easy access of alcohol. He also argues, with respect to both products, that removing from the view of children the physical exchange of money for booze or cigarettes will also help break the generational acceptability that each now enjoys.

    One obstacle to following through on the idea, says Fitzgerald, is the politics of money. “Both the Coalition and Labor’s policies on the sale of alcohol and tobacco are partisan and self-interested,” wrote Fitzgerald. “Neither government nor opposition wants to lose the enormous tax revenues involved. Health Minister Nicola Roxon puffs her chest out and roars at the tobacco companies, holding up a generic cigarette packet like a crucifix. This is mere political posturing.”

    Not for the Australian Sex Party, it isn’t. In his email, Swan posed the following questions. “What do Australia’s major public health agencies think about this approach,’ he asked. “What arguments could be advanced against his proposal and who would advance them?

    “The AMA, the Cancer Council, the Public Health Association, QUIT and other agencies should be commenting on the proposal,” he further suggested, adding, “The Australian Sex Party supports Fitzgerald’s proposals around tobacco sales and some aspects of those around alcohol.”

    It is an interesting position to take for a group that has argued so strenuously against the proposal by the Australian government to limit the availability of sexual content on the internet, including allowing the filtering of content at the ISP level. But in fairness, the proposal does not seek to eliminate products, but simply limit their accessibility to places frequented by children.

    In the United States, of course, the availability of cigarettes is ubiquitous; it’s the right to smoke them that is being continuously encroached upon by Big Brothers at the local, state and federal level, all in the name of health. Alcohol is seeing a similar level of control, increasingly at sporting events, where its sale is curtailed, but more aggressively at gentlemen’s clubs around the country, where it is increasingly prohibited altogether, courtesy of the moral police who need mean to wipe these establishments off the face of the earth by means that circumvent.

    Adult Video News (AVN) September 27, 2011

  • 4BC/2UE (author) said:

    4BC (Brisbane)
    Drive – 27/09/2011 – 05:09 PM
    Gary Hardgrave
    Program Ph: 07 3908 8279

    Interview with writer Ross Fitzgerald about whether selling alcohol and cigarettes in grocery stores is sending the wrong message to young people and his calls for them to be sold only in age-restricted premises. Hardgrave talks about the Federal Government’s plain packaging of cigarettes legislation and complains about mixed messages. Fitzgerald says that if the Federal Health Minister was ‘serious about reducing smoking rates’ she would target the sale of cigarettes and alcohol in supermarkets. Hardgrave agrees that seeing parents buying and using these things desensitises children to their use. Fitzgerald complains about supermarket workers being able to sell products they are too young to buy. Fitzgerald is concerned about copyright issues in the plain packaging of cigarettes and worries that this could be enforced in other areas. Hardgrave mentions the Marlboro man and thinks this could extend to fast food. He thinks Fitzgerald’s restrictions sounds far better than the Federal Government’s current plan. Fitzgerald says that Coles and Woolworths haven’t responded to this idea at all and wouldn’t like it. He calls the Federal Government the most incompetent ever, challenging even Billy McMahon. He thinks Hardgrave should return to Federal Parliament and that Tony Abbott would make a very good Prime Minister
    © Media Monitors 2011

    Interviewees: Ross Fitzgerald, Writer

    2UE (Sydney)
    Nights – 26/09/2011 – 09:22 PM
    Mike Jeffreys
    Presenter Mr Stuart Bocking 02 9930 9881

    Jeffreys says there’s a plan for cigarettes to be sold in adult only arenas. He says this is a proposition put forward by Prof Ross Fitzgerald, Columnist, The Australian. Fitzgerald says adult only products like cigarettes and alcohol should only be sold in adults only premises. He says it’s ridiculous to him that a drug like cigarettes can be sold in supermarkets and corner stores. Jeffreys says he had a note from Robbie Swan from The Sex Party, who is supporting this plan. Fitzgerald says he’s hoping that the Medical Assoc and other groups will consider this plan. He says it’s an obvious solution to the problem. Jeffreys says he’s concerned about plain packaging laws as it’s the dollar of the taxpayer will be on the line. Fitzgerald says he’s not sure about the plan either. He thinks ‘Ms Roxon is riding the wrong horse’ on the matter. Fitzgerald says changes to the point of sale would have more of an effect on smoking than changing the packaging would. Fitzgerald says he hasn’t had any response from Coles or Woolworths after he wrote his article on Saturday in The Australian. Fitzgerald says Roxon hasn’t commented on it either. Jeffreys says there’s a company in the US who are refusing to employ anyone who is a smoker. Fitzgerald says he understands why they’d do this but he doesn’t think it’s totally fair. He says he’d like to hear what the Austn Medical Assoc have to say about his plan.

    2UE (Sydney)
    Late Drive – 26/09/2011 – 08:51 PM
    Murray Wilton & Murray Olds
    Station Ph: 02 9930 9954

    Program preview
    – Ross Fitzgerald says cigarettes should only be available at tobacconists and adult stores.
    © Media Monitors 2011