Australia fires the latest salvo in the war on smoking
AUSTRALIA will enforce the new law on mandatory packaging for cigarettes in December, which stipulates olive green with graphic health warnings on the consequences of smoking for all brands.
Obviously, the anti-smoking campaign that used to have a hard time making its case is at last making headway even in court. The two tobacco giants challenging Parliament's legislation in the country's highest court -- a case closely watched by other countries as a possible precedent -- was soundly beaten.
The usual arguments about freedom of choice, companies' property rights and the likelihood of an increase in counterfeiting and smuggling did not sway the judges. Every government is now aware of the lethal consequences and high healthcare cost of treating smoking-related illnesses.
Research suggests that smoking is the primary cause of several types of cancers, especially lung cancer. It also has an adverse impact on the smoker's cardiovascular health, which is said to be more so for secondary smokers. Unborn babies, too, are at risk. But despite costly information campaigns, too many people, particularly in poor countries, still smoke, which was why the Australian court decision was of interest to the rest of the world. A wide-ranging survey based on 248,452 interviews in 14 countries published in The Lancet last Thursday found that India and China had the most new smokers, and the rate at which smokers there and in Egypt, Bangladesh and Russia were quitting was 50 years behind that of developed countries.
The World Health Organisation has estimated that a billion people could die from smoking this century, 10 times more than in the previous. Yet diehard smokers keep pointing to the lack of a 100 per cent correlation to persuade themselves that they can beat the odds.
What is indisputable, though, is that smoking is a bad habit, often hazardous when smokers are careless. Fires have been caused by smouldering cigarette butts. They leave behind a smoke-filled environment and a smell that attaches to fabrics with stubborn tenacity. It stains teeth and skin. Yet, despite its anti-social nature, the possible health hazards and the already scary pictures carried on packaging, smoking is on the rise, even in Singapore, for example. There the habit is frowned upon by the law with cigarette packaging already carrying ample graphic health warnings, the habit taxed heavily and smokers treated little better than pariahs in the public space. As tough and controversial as it may seem, nations should keep putting the squeeze on tobacco consumption while medical science builds up evidence for it to be banned outright.