Monday 23 May 2011

The glorious idiocy of Simon Chapman

Antipodean anti-smoker Simon Chapman has been receiving a well-deserved kicking over at Ep-ology for writing an opinion piece of weapons grade stupidity. Chappers has been getting all excited about plain packaging, so much so that he's started talking openly about prohibition and has even revived Julian Le Grand's much-mocked idea of smoking licenses. Chapman could learn from the Le Grand's experience on that one...

My e-mail inbox exploded. Mostly with pictures of Hitler, I have to say. People were very hostile to that sort of idea. So, although the nudge agenda, I think, does have possibilities I think care has to be taken that people don't feel that it's the nanny state, indeed the nanny state squared.

Of all the silly things Chapman has been saying recently, there has been one statement of such glorious idiocy that it almost turns full circle and becomes a sort of genius. In response to a report saying that 16% of tobacco in Australia is smuggled/counterfeit, Chapman says, with sarcastic self-satisfaction:

So while one in six smokers apparently know where they can repeatedly buy illegal tobacco, strangely, with more than a billion dollars supposedly being lost, the gormless Federal Police with all their intelligence and resources and impressive history of major smuggling busts cannot find any of these same retail outlets and prosecute.

It's a measure of Chapman's immense talent that he can solve the centuries old problem of smuggling in one throwaway sentence, but this is a true Eureka moment, is it not? If the public can get hold of illicit substances, so can the authorities. Like all the best ideas, the beauty lies in its simplicity. All the police have to do is go undercover, find out where people are getting illicit goods and then find out who supplied them to them, and so on until you get to the top of the chain. Then make a few arrests and—ta-da!—the problem is solved. If only the DEA and the FBI had thought of this 100 years ago, we could have made a success of Prohibition and the War on Drugs. I look forward to reading this guy's next webitorial when he will solve the Palestinian problem and the common cold.

But Chapman's real interest is the plain packaging ruse and the tobacco industry's response to it. It was widely reported by the piss-poor Australian press that BAT are planning to "flood Australia with cheap tobacco". In reality, the industry couldn't do such a thing even if it wanted to—well over 70% of the retail price is tax—and nor has it ever threatened to. What BAT did say was that higher prices and plain packaging encouraged illicit trade, and that the display ban and plain packaging meant that cigarette companies could only compete on price. Both of these statements are fairly obviously true and the effect of both is to encourage smokers to buy cheaper cigarettes. Since cigarette consumption is affected by price—although not as much as most products—this is an instance of alleged health campaigners shooting themselves in the foot. Lower prices mean more smokers, as they frequently say themselves.

This is not very complex economics and it is very different to BAT threatening to "flood Australia with cheap tobacco". Of course, boosting illicit trade is not the only reason the tobacco industry doesn't like plain packaging. The big companies, in particular, want to protect their brands. BAT have made this very clear by threatening to sue the Australian government for taking away their intellectual property. However, since most people don't care about their intellectual property, the industry has focused more on the illicit trade angle when arguing against plain packaging.

In the simple-minded world inhabited by the likes of Simon Chapman, the very fact that the industry opposes plain packaging is reason enough to go push ahead with it.

It’s now very plain the global tobacco industry sees the move as arguably the greatest single threat it has ever faced, and is spending millions to say that — really, honestly — plain packs just won’t work and will cause chaos throughout the economy.

I’ve done many interviews on this in the past year and even normally sceptical radio hosts quickly make the point that ordinary Australians are asking “well, if it won’t work, why are they so concerned and spending all this money?”

Far be it from me to question the intellect of radio hosts, let alone "ordinary Australians", but this line of enquiry rests on the assumption that the industry opposes plain packaging for the same reason the antis support it—because they believe it will bring down the smoking rate. But a few paragraphs later, Chapman shows that this isn't actually the case.

A leaked BAT internal training DVD from 2002 explains much about the industry’s real fears in plain packaging.

Profitability in the tobacco industry today rests largely on high-priced premium brands, which are able to attract higher retail prices purely on the strength of branding and pack image. If all packs will look the same, many smokers will wonder why they should shell out far more for a pack that looks the same as every other brand except for brand name and that internal tobacco industry research shows cannot be distinguished from cheaper brands in blinded smoking experiments. The illusion that premium brands are “better” will evaporate, and much profitability with it.

If this "leaked DVD" had revealed that the industry believed that the packaging of cigarettes leads nonsmokers to take up the habit, there might be a story here. In fact, what they say in private seems to be much the same as what they say in public. They're trying to protect their premium brands, and why not?

If smokers lose interest in the premium brands, they will smoke cheaper cigarettes. And if cheaper cigarettes lead to more smoking, plain packaging will lead, by way of unintended consequences, to more smoking. This is what the industry has been saying, and campaigners have scoffed, but Chapman now accepts this:

If smokers were to drift down to lower-priced brands, smoking rates could well rise, particularly among low-income groups and kids who are most price responsive.

Great success! A new problem is thus created for which Chapman has a predictably bone-headed solution:

The government could easily restore the price by increasing excise duty by 20% overnight as it did in April 2010 when first announcing plain packs and the tax rise

This, in turn, would lead to a further incentive to smugglers, although that doesn't bother Chapman because he doesn't believe smugglers exist. And so the cycle keeps on going. As one policy leads to a cock-up in one direction, a sticking plaster is applied that exacerbates the problem in another direction. What a shower they are.

Simon Chapman used to be the editor of Tobacco Control. Explains a lot, that.


Anonymous said...

I have been reading a really interesting piece about tobacco control at''

Dick Puddlecote said...

His insane wibblings are worrying yes, but still bloody funny to read. It's quite incredible that such a retard has achieved so high a profile since he must take 10 minutes every morning figuring out how his trouser zip works.

Magnetic said...

Chapman helped to seriously put the antismoking “movement” on the deception track with his contribution “The Lung Goodbye”, a manual of underhanded tricks and tactics to advance the “cause”, presented at the 5th World Conference on Smoking & Health in 1983. Chapman (see Godber Blueprint ), whose background is in sociology/media, is a political activist (he is also a “master” of incoherent analogy). He knows how to use information deceptively for maximal inflammatory effect. There were some journalists in the early days of this “crusade” that complained of Chapman’s bullying. If they dared question him or disagree with him, they would attract the standard antismoking tactic of being accused of being tobacco industry shills complicit in the “killing” of countless smokers.

Chapman was highly influential in the “denormalization” of smokers (see Godber Blueprint).

Consider his RIP (fire-safe cigarettes) activity. He was the first to push for RIPs for Australia in 2004. At the time the talk was about removing burning (accelerants) agents. By 2006, this had changed to “speed humps” (glue) added onto the cigarette paper. He was still pushing RIPs.
He was then very much behind fast-tracking RIPs for Australia in 2009.
RIPs were introduced into Australia (mandatory) in early-2010. RIPs were never tested on smokers. For many, RIPs produce immediate symptoms, e.g., constant phlegm production, cough, wheezing, a feeling of “bruised lungs”.

Magnetic said...

Consider Chapman’s activity in just the last year. He has been a strong pusher of tobacco products being put behind opaque cabinets. This has already been rolled out in Australia. He is also very much behind generic packaging of tobacco.

Chapman has a shot at menthol:

More recently, he is pushing for eradicating the smoke-break at work.

Magnetic said...

Chapman has attempted to bully Australian musicians touring Indonesia to boycott events that are sponsored by the tobacco industry.

In Australia, there are progressively more councils banning smoking outdoors, e.g., parks, beaches, malls. Although he doesn’t approve of such outdoor bans, Chapman provides no criticism of such bans in the media.

Chapman Bio

Chapman was on the list of Sydney's top 100 most influential people for 2008.

Magnetic said...

Chapman also floated the “smoker licence” idea in 2008:

"In my lifetime I think we will see smoker licensing, where smokers who want to buy cigarettes will have to get a licence to do so," he said.

"It's not impossible to foresee that when young people turn 18 and want to legally buy cigarettes they'll have to pass a knowledge test, like the knowledge test to get your driver's licence, and they'll have to pay to take the test and pay for an annual licence.

"I think tobacco retail outlets will be severely limited so that you won't be able to walk into a service station or a corner store and buy cigarettes. I think it will be restricted in the same way that pharmaceuticals are restricted to pharmacies.

"And I think you won't be able to walk into a tobacco seller and buy cigarettes in bulk. I can see a time where you won't be able to buy a carton of cigarettes any more, but only two packets, maximum."

[Blogger won't allow me to add the link]

James Higham said...

And in turn, there'll be a new crop of Eliot Nesses to break up the black market.

Anonymous said...

Tip of the hat to 'EinsteinSmoked'.

I like that the "Black Market" for tobacco in Australia is called the "Free Market".

"The Free-Market Trade in Tobacco in Australia"

"the tobacco companies who hold most of the tobacco market in Australia, are being threatened by underground businessmen who now control 15.9% of the tobacco market up from 6.4% in 2007."

March 2010

Some simple reconstructive math yields the annual rate of the growth of the Australian "Free Market" for tobacco over the last few years.

Up about 148% since 2007 and about 33% in the last year.

Here are the market shares per year.

2007 - 6.7%
2008 - 9.4%
2010 - 12.0%
2011 - 15.9%

Gary K.

Anonymous said...

What a great phrase! - The Free Market in Tobacco! "Smokefree" = "Dutyfree". Wonderful!

I would have thought that areas of Australia are ripe for the free cultivation of the tobacco plant. I wonder if that is really what the powers-that-be there are worried about? There must be areas of Australia which are perfect for the tobacco plant. But I am not sure that Aussie MPs are clever enough.

The wild sowing of this plant would be catastrophic for the Gov. Imagine the wild sowing of cannabis - imagine the Gov rushing around in all directions, trying to terminate the growth of this wild plant!If tobacco plants were growing in the wild with great profusion, and enough people encouraged this growth (by chucking tobacco plant seeds all over the place), then the Gov would be on a hiding to nothing. That being the case (wild tobacco plants), all that remains is to find a very easy way to 'cure' the tobacco. It is a matter of fact that modern heating devices and electric fans make this quite easy, give or take a month or so. Even the easy ways can be improved so as to make the curing very simple. (Curing is simply a way of making the tobacco 'pleasanter to the taste' by softening the taste and reducing the smell (ie. the smoke). So it is not really about 'contraband' so much as people just picking tobacco leaves in the wild (like blackberries) and making their own tobacco.

Of course, the tobacco companies do not want this any more than the Gov.

Australia is a special case in that areas of Australia are perfect for the wild growing of the the tobacco plant, but Britain is still a good place, although there are more difficulties - one needs to think of this plant as being - what's the word? - 'tender', that is, not to be 'frosted'. But that does not mean that it cannot be incubated in a propagator and grown on in a greenhouse.

But that is the way in which it is going to go. The process has started. One tobacco plant will produce millions of seeds, and they are very easy to germinate and to grow - they need no extra heat as do cannabis plants.

So we wait to see how silly the Australian Gov get. 'Silly' is the only word. I cannot help but equate the Australian Gov to their most famous exports - 'Home and Away' and 'Neighbours' - simplistic plots (to the point of imbecility), hysteria, infantilization, girly-boys, ham acting, and so on and so on.

I do not understand how the thinking people of Australia can put up with it. In 'thinking people', I include all the bishops and authors and scientists.