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John Passant

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June 2011



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

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Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

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Now you’re smoking, Nicola!

‘It’s time to kick the habit Mr Abbott.’  That was Nicola Roxon, Labor Party Health Minister, 3 weeks ago urging the Opposition Leader to reject tobacco company funding.

It turns out Roxon has form on tobacco support too. Back in 1999 she accepted a tobacco company invitation to the Australian Open, paid for of course by this legal drug company whose product is addiction and outcome is individual and societal misery.

Labor supposedly did the right thing back in 2004 when then party leader Mark Latham decreed that the ALP would no longer accept donations from the tobacco peddlers.

However, according to the ABC, it ‘has obtained letters that show Nicola Roxon wrote to Philip Morris executives in 2005, inviting them to a $1,500-a-table fundraiser.’

$1500! What an outrage. Ordinary working people can’t afford that sort of money. But then again, the focus of Labor Party MPs is not ordinary workers, it is big business. Hence Roxon’s invitation to the pushers of this legal drug, tobacco.  

When a politician needs funds for re-election, almost any possible source is OK.

Labor politicians see Parliament as the vehicle for ‘change’ – notice how they don’t talk about progressive reform any more? – and given the fact most of them are careerists par excellence the logic becomes impeccable. Getting them into Parliament and keeping them there is priority number one, overriding principles if necessary.

Cigarette use exploded during the first world war. In the face of the unspeakable horrors and carnage, cigarettes were used as a pacifier. Millions of soldiers took up the habit.

During the Second World War soldiers were issued cigarettes as part of their rations. Cigarette companies supplied them for free, safe in the knowledge that there would, after the war, be a strong addict market for cigarettes and big profits.

Tobacco, like alcohol, is now too entrenched in the working class and other sections of society to ban it despite the fact it is the biggest drug killer, even more deadly than grog.

These drugs are part of the fabric of capitalist society and their use flows from the alienation we experience from our own labour.

But the social costs are immense. Apart from the grief as a result of losing loved ones, according to Action on Smoking and Health:

  • Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in Australia killing 50 Australians daily, 350 each week, and around 19,000 every year.
  • Smoking causes 20% of all cancers, 21% of all heart disease and costs $12.7 billion a year in health care, lost productivity and other costs (1998).

A Government study by Collins and Lapsley in 2008 estimated the tangible costs (health and productivity) of tobacco use in 2004/05 at $12 billion and the intangible costs (death) at over $19 billion. That is $31 billion a year.

According to Action on Smoking and Health (see above) ‘Governments currently collect over $4.5 billion in revenue from smokers each year, yet they spend less than $8 million on anti-smoking education.’

Various governments have responded in a piecemeal fashion to the carnage this drug wreaks.

That seems to be working in a manner of speaking. It is true that smoking rates have declined markedly since the 1950s but they now seem to be stuck around 20 to 25 percent of the adult population.

The latest chapter in the Federal Government’s attack on cigarettes is to mandate plain packaging so that some of the fake competitive distinctions between the cancer sticks are removed.

The tobacco companies have responded against plain packaging with various nonsensical arguments, almost on a par with the misinformation of the mining companies in their campaign against against the Resource Super Profits Tax.

But unlike the mining companies they know they won’t win, despite the fact that they fund the Coalition parties to the tune of hundreds of thousands. 97 percent of British American Tobacco’s political donations worldwide went to support the Australian Coalition parties. Even that motley crew of conservative politicians have come out, albeit reluctantly, in support of plain packaging.

The tobacco giants’ campaign is to legitimise smoking in the minds of smokers and to keep them smoking. It’s a form of subliminal advertising.

The multinational tobacco companies are pushing the idea that regulation reflects a nanny state. I am in favour of a nanny state that looks after the sick and that helps cancer victims fight their disease even if it is a result of their own actions.

I support a nanny state in which the peddlers of such a dangerous drug pay through the nose (pun intended) for their product being on the market, and for measures which stop them passing on the increased costs to smokers.

None of this is to argue for a war on tobacco a la the war on drugs. Such approaches are doomed to failure, other than to prop up the profits of the suppliers. So to some extent is education since that doesn’t address the societal causes of smoking.

The figures are pretty clear. The poorer you are the more likely you are to smoke. As the Australian Bureau of Statistics puts it:

The rate of smoking is much higher in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage. After adjusting for age differences, 33% of men and 28% of women in the most disadvantaged areas reported being daily smokers, compared to 16% of men and 11% of women in the most advantaged areas

Among aboriginal Australians the rate of smoking is 50 percent.

A good first step in reducing smoking among the poor and aboriginal people would be a program of income and wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor. For aboriginal people that would have to include thoroughgoing land rights, self-determination and a treaty.

None of this is going to happen under Labor, and it certainly isn’t going to happen under the Coalition.

Both are parties of neoliberalism and have overseen a shift in wealth from the poor and working class to the rich over the last 3 decades. Where they differ is in the best way to do this.

Even radical wealth redistribution under capitalism won’t challenge the underlying alienation at the heart of tobacco use. Only a democratic revolution overthrowing the current economic and social relations which give rise to tobacco use can break the habit.



Comment from lauriesienna
Time June 15, 2011 at 10:43 am

“despite the fact that they fund the Coalition parties to the tune of hundreds of millions”

Come on , John, Get a Grip!

Hundreds on Millions ??

Comment from paul walter
Time June 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Good, lauriesienna- you see the wrong in tobacco companies, that are good examples of what theorists describe as the”corporate psychopath”, investing-over time- hundreds of $millions into the pockets of politicians and lobbyists.
What do you think $1500 a head dinners- and that’s a decade ago ago- are about?
Your humanity leaps out and bites me, as does the humanity of those defending things like Bhopal and James Hardie.
Human resources are wasted as surely as the natural resources of the Murray Darling or Tasmania, in the interests of small claques who capture government and the media and happily trash the economy and humanity, as did the grasping idiots who killed the goose that lays the golden egg.

Comment from John
Time June 15, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Hundreds of thousands. My mistake.

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