On Tuesday Australia's high court upheld the country's landmark law removing all brand packaging from cigarettes. The law was one of the biggest and most far-reaching passed in the history of the "little white slaver" known as the cigarette. Under the new law, instead of a tobacco company's logo, new packs of cigarettes in Australia will be sold only in nondescript, plain olive green packets that feature graphic health warnings and images of cancer-riddled mouths, blinded eyeballs and sick children.
Unfortunately for Australian lawmakers and everyone else attempting to save smokers from themselves, even this won't be enough. It's become apparent that smokers are just going to keep at it. They ran out of excuses a long time ago.
Back when smoking was ubiquitous, in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, it had three main attractions - it was carefree, it was cool and it was cheap. None of those things are true anymore.
It is certainly no longer cheap. Australia had already taken the "Bloomberg approach" and taxed cigarettes to the hilt. A pack of 25 cigarettes retails there for about 16 Australian dollars ($17 US).
Australia's $17 a pack price tag is galling, but even here in the US prices have skyrocketed. Back in the golden days, a pack of cigs would cost you a dime (the equivalent of $1.43 today, given the rate of inflation). Today, you're paying an average of $5.66 a pack. If you smoke a pack a day, that adds up to $170 a month and $2038 a year, and that's just the direct cost. You'll also be paying an extra 40% every month on health and life insurance because of your increased risk.
Not only are cigarettes themselves now a monthly expenditure that rival health insurance, groceries, a top-of-the-line satellite television package, a family cell phone plan, or a year of electricity, water and gas for a moderately sized home combined, smoking is also no longer cool. It's not even cool to teenagers.
According to a study from the American Council on Consumer Health, 67 % of teenagers say that seeing someone smoke turns them off, 65% say that they strongly dislike being around smokers and 86% would rather date people who don't smoke.
More than half of all teenage smokers want to quit, and about 70% of teenage smokers wish that they had never started smoking in the first place.
And smoking certainly isn't carefree. Since 1984, all cigarettes sold in these United States have come with a warning label that says very clearly, in big, bold letters "SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy." The label doesn't say may cause or could cause; it says causes.
Cigarettes cause lung cancer and lung cancer kills. Lung cancer has, by far, the highest recorded death rate of any cancer. It kills an average of 437 people a day, which is more than the next four deadly cancers combined. It will kill more than three times as many men as prostate cancer and nearly twice as many women as breast cancer.
Lung cancer also has a stupendously low survival rate. The five-year rate for lung cancer survivors is about 15%. Compare that to 33 percent for brain cancer, 87% for breast cancer and 99% for prostate cancer. In Europe and most of the developed world, the five-year overall survival rate is 8%.
Sure, not everyone who contracts lung cancer gets it from smoking cigarettes, but male smokers do have a 2,300% higher risk (females only increase their risk by 1,200 percent).
Interestingly enough, despite the fact that lung cancer is significantly more deadly than just about any other form of cancer, it receives the least funding.
In 2006, the National Cancer Institute spent $1,518 for each new case of lung cancer and $1,630 for each lung cancer death. By comparison, the agency spent $13,452 per death on breast cancer. In the US, lung cancer kills almost 160,000 people every year. Breast cancer kills about 41,000.
Another interesting fact about smoking is that contrary to popular belief, it does not reduce stress. In fact, it increases stress.
While many smokers claim to smoke because it calms their nerves, what regular smokers actually experience are periods of heightened stress between cigarettes, which are only reduced when they smoke. British scientist Andy C. Parrott, confirmed the link between smoking and stress in an October 1999 article in American Psychologist.
"Smokers often report that cigarettes help relieve feelings of stress. However, the stress levels of in adult smokers are slightly higher than those of nonsmokers, adolescent smokers report increasing levels of stress as they develop regular patterns of smoking, and smoking cessation leads to reduced stress. Far from acting as an aid for mood control, nicotine dependency seems to exacerbate stress."
Parrott was confirming the finds of Dr. Stanley Schrater who found the same conclusion in 1978. So basically, smoking cigarettes offers no benefit with lots and lots of cost.
Today, we know that the tobacco companies spent billions of dollars lying about the harmful effects of cigarettes and we know that cigarettes are not only harmful, they're fatal.
We know about the nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, methane, cadmium, methanol, hexamine, stearic acid, butane, DDT and other putrid and lethal chemicals in cigarettes.
We know that more than 85 percent of people who smoke cigarettes are considered chemically dependent and that cigarettes have been proven to be more addictive than cocaine or heroin.
We know about the hundreds of thousands of people who die every year because of cigarettes - 443,000 in just the United States - and we know that you don't even have to be a smoker for cigarettes to give you cancer.
Sure we can be tricked, peer-pressured, lured by shrewd and conniving advertising, forced to cohabitate with the addicted, etc., but at a certain point, given all of the gums, patches, mints, support groups, websites, hotlines, PSAs and basic alternatives that exist in our world today, is it not reasonable to say that there is literally no good reason in the world to smoke?
Cigarettes kill 5.4 million people a year around the world and they're poised to kill another one billion (that's billion with a 'B') people this century. The question, "Are you stupid?" has never carried such validity as it does to one who, in an industrialized nation, rife with literature, billboards, common knowledge and propaganda in every media available, still chooses to inhale noxious, scientifically-proven fatal smoke into their lungs with no benefit.
This isn't a scant percentage of folks; this is a confirmed 20% of the adult American populace - 46 million people. These people cannot stop indulging in a disgusting habit that is literally taking down three 757s full of people every single day.
For years antismoking campaigns have focused their attention on the evil of the tobacco companies and the victimization of the smoker. However, with the landmark ruling Tuesday, Australia has almost completely taken advertising and branding out of the question. Countries like New Zealand, India, the UK and even some states in the US have been contemplating taking similar measures.
I have no doubt that smoking rates will decrease in Australia, but cigarettes aren't going anywhere unless they're made completely illegal. Today's smokers aren't wide-eyed innocents who have been bamboozled by the tobacco companies or the victims of any conspiracy or government malfeasance. No, most of today's smokers are intractable, addicts who will continue to smoke no matter how inconvenient it is.