The world’s biggest cigarette companies made their case in the High Court today, battling the Federal Government’s attempts to impose plain packaging on their product, fearful it may set a worldwide precedent. Already, the UK is making plans to adopt similar legislation. One of their arguments is that since the Government stands to save money in the public health budget from people not dying or needing to go to hospital as a result of smoking, tobacco companies should to be compensated. Managing editor David Donovan, a former tobacco company employee, gives an inside view about just how far big tobacco will go in their efforts to preserve their noxious trade.
As a former cigarette company employee, I have no sympathy for their attempts to challenge the Federal Government’s plain packaging. Cigarette companies have bribed and subverted the political process for too long. I know this, because for three years in the mid-1990s, I worked for a cigarette company in Brisbane, where I saw this company blatantly try to ensure employees, including myself, were hooked on nicotine, as well as their bribery of politicians and public officials.
I began working for Rothmans of Pall Mall in early 1994.
I was reluctant to work for a tobacco company, but Australia was then suffering from the effects of Keating’s recession we had to have and so, as a graduate with no work experience, I was willing to accept almost any job. In addition, I was already a part-time smoker, so any philosophical objections seemed almost hypocritical — at least to begin with.
On day one, walking in to the company’s office/warehouse complex, the first thing I noticed was the atmosphere. This was in the days before smoking had been banned in the workplace, restaurants, bars and just about every other public place you care to mention. Back then, it was open slather and this cigarette company wasn’t for wasting any opportunity to promote the product.
On seemingly every flat surface was an ashtray, and above almost all these ashtrays was a little yellow sign that said: “PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SMOKE”. The staff appeared to have taken this entreaty to heart, too, because almost every worker had a cigarette in his or her mouth or smouldering in one of the ashtrays dotted around their workstations. To say that a rank miasma pervaded the place would be an egregious understatement.
On my first pay day, I was stunned to be asked to inform the company what sort of cigarettes I would like to receive. You see, not only did the tobacco company encourage its staff to smoke, but it also gave them an allocation of “free” cigarettes every month to assist them in their corporate duty.
Every month, I would receive 500 cigarettes — increased to 600 when I was promoted to marketing analyst — for my own personal use (three standard cartons).
Unfortunately, staff were not allowed to sell these cigarettes and, indeed, anyone caught trying to sell them was informed that they would be summarily dismissed. You had to either smoke them yourself or give them away. Five or six hundred cigarettes is a lot to give away, though it did try. Surprisingly, I would find my friends pleading with me not to give them cigarettes as they, like me, were trying to give up. I began to be called the “cancer-man”.
The cigarette company’s generosity didn’t end with its staff. They also had a “gratis” list — a list of people to whom they would cheerfully post in the mail, in brown paper covered packages, free cigarettes each month.
The people on this list comprised the “A” list of Queensland decision makers and influence peddlers — everyone from politicians, mayors, judges, QCs, leading public servants, actors and any other significant or influential people across the state who happened to smoke.
At the time, as a lowly accounts assistant, I thought the company did this because they were just being nice — maybe this was how the recipients of this patronage passed it off. To me now, however, it seems obvious that the goal was, first of all, to keep these powerful figures hooked on nicotine; and, secondly, grateful towards the tobacco industry such that they would consider long and hard before making any decisions that might negatively impact upon these concerns. Drug peddling and bribery — all rolled into one.
Perhaps the cigarette companies might reveal in court if the gratis list still exists. If so, it obviously didn’t produce results in the case of Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon.
What we do know that cigarette companies are some of the most significant donors to political parties on the conservative side of politics. This makes Australian Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s decision to support Roxon's plain packaging legislation brave and praiseworthy.
Before people leap to the tobacco industry’s defence and complain about the government damaging copyright by enforcing plain packaging restrictions, which have been shown to have an effect, especially on people attempting to quit smoking, they should be aware that cigarette companies are well aware of the addictive and dangerous nature of their products.
And, more than that, they are quite willing to use whatever means are at their disposal to keep people either addicted to their product or dependent upon their largesse.
If you smoke and would like to quit, please click here, or dial the number listed in the following video.