Last week we told you about a federal judge’s decision to hold US tobacco companies accountable for their misleading advertising, ordering them to pay for PSAs detailing the true dangers that their products pose to public. Now, Australia has taken transparency in tobacco advertising to an entirely new level — as of December 1, all packs of cigarettes will be required to feature plain, uniform labeling, with brand names taking a back seat to explicit warnings and graphic photos of ailments caused by tobacco use.
Rather than familiar, colorful brand logos, smokers will now find themselves faced with images of mouth cancer and lungs plagued by emphysema (among other equally unappealing conditions). “They’re so horrifyingly ugly that they are magnificent”, said Fiona Sharkie, executive director of anti-smoking campaign Quit Victoria.
As you might have guessed, tobacco companies are less enthusiastic to see decades of branding work tossed out the window in favor of caution labels. In an effort to prevent the new packaging law from taking effect, the companies claimed that prohibition of the display of trademarks was equivalent to an illegal seizure of their property–a complaint which the High Court of Australia rejected on August 15.
Anti-smoking advocates and cigarette-pushers reacted to the new law in predictable fashion, but the story caused us a bit of internal conflict. On the one hand, we’re excited to see the courts take such drastic measures in the interest of public health (we have loved-ones who smoke and we would be overjoyed to see them quit); but we do wonder what sort of precedent this new regulation sets. Will the McDonald’s arches soon be replaced with photos of insulin pumps and clogged arteries? Will wine bottles be plastered with images of grisly booze-induced car crashes? If the answer were “yes”, would it be a good thing or a bad thing? Would it really influence people’s choices in a positive way?
The relationship between transparency in advertising and personal choice is a complicated one — determining where the responsibility of one ends and the other begins is a muddy business. So what do you think of this case, readers? Necessary and laudable public safety effort or dangerous precedent?