Cigarettes and cereal just don’t mix
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.
September 24 -25, 2011