16 Apr, 13 | by Iain Brassington
Blogging here has been light for a little while, and probably will be for a little while longer because of Stuff and Things – but something caught my eye in Sunday’s Indy* that struck me as worth comment. It was a full-page advert placed by JTI, which describes itself in the small print as “a leading international tobacco company” (and it is).
Anyhoo… the main bit of the ad is a copy of an email, obtained by an FoI request, apparently from the UK Department of Health to the Australian Department of Health and Ageing; it reads as follows (with the highlighting copied from the ad here as closely as I can manage):
I work on the UK government’s tobacco policy team, with [redacted] and you will be aware that the UK government is considering the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco products.
As I’m sure you’re aware, one of the difficulties regarding this is that nobody has done this and therefore, there isn’t any hard evidence to show that it works. Therefore, I am wondering whether the Australian government drafted any type of impact assessment or cost analysis in which the likely benefits and costs are measured, and if so, whether you would be willing to hare the information with us.
And then in bold underneath, JTI’s copywriters have added:
WE COULDN’T HAVE PUT IT BETTER OURSELVES
Now, the email is dated the 10th of May 2011. Australia’s plain-packaging law came into effect on the 1st December 2012; as far as I’m aware, Australia was the first country to pass such a law. So, at the time of writing, there could not have been any hard data about its impact. There could not possibly be any hard evidence to show that plain packaging works to reduce smoking rates.
The argument of the advert – actually, no: the subtext, since it’s not really an argument – is that the UK government should not introduce plain packaging because of the lack of hard data. This seems to amount to a claim that governments should not introduce policies without hard data concerning their efficacy. And there’s something correct about that for the most part. But hard data are only available in the wake of the introduction of a policy. If the policy is novel – as it is – then JTI would seem to be committed to the claim that no government should be the first to introduce a policy; which is as much as to say that no government should introduce it at all.
It’s understandable that that’s what they think. But why not just say so? Isn’t this ad just rather disingenuously dressing up opposition as something else?
Or have I missed something?
*Saturday’s Indy, with its column-inches devoted to Andrew Wakefield, is worth rather a lot of comment: more than I can offer at the moment. I’ll point you in the direction of Martin Robbins in the Staggers instead.