Wednesday 17 May 2017

Slippery slope: gambling edition

Way back in 1985, half-witted sociologist Simon Chapman scoffed at the idea that a ban on tobacco advertising would open the door to the prohibition of the advertising of any product that displeased puritans. In a document published by the British Medical Association, he wrote:

The 'thin end of the wedge...'?

A further deception is the industry's appeal: "Where will they stop?" The industry argues that if advertising is stopped because tobacco is dangerous, then advertising for cars, motor cycles, alcohol, sugar, aircraft travel and any other potentially dangerous product could also be banned.

All of these products can endanger health, but they are dangerous only when abused. Tobacco is the only advertised product which is hazardous when used as intended.

The British Medical Association has since demanded a total ban on alcohol advertising, but that has not deterred Simple Simon from maintaining that the tobacco advertising ban was not 'the thin end of the wedge'.

He reiterated this view on Australian radio in 2012:

Look, if the slope is slippery, it's the most unslippery slippery dip I've ever seen in my life. We started banning tobacco advertising in 1976 and there has been no other commodity where there has been anything like a serious move to do what we've done with tobacco. And that's because there are great big differences between tobacco and all other commodities. 

So imagine my surprise when he popped up this week to demand that the 1976 ban on televised tobacco advertising be copied to the letter for gambling advertising.

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has already pledged to ban gambling ads before 8.30pm but - who woulda thunk it? - that's not enough for Chapman, who equates it with being 'a little bit pregnant' and wants a total ban (along with a ban on TV presenters mentioning betting odds). Naturally, he cites the anti-smoking crusade as a direct precedent for what should happen.

The history of restricting tobacco advertising is likely to point to what’s ahead in reforms on how gambling promotion.

The last time a direct tobacco advertisement was seen or heard on Australian TV or radio was in August 1976. The Whitlam government introduced the policy, which was continued by the Fraser government. Direct cigarette advertising on radio and television was phased out over the three years between September 1, 1973 and September 1, 1976. 

The decision was framed as a way of reducing the exposure of children to tobacco advertising. Obviously, the proposition was that kids were a prime target for tobacco companies and their advertising was a powerful way of conditioning interest in smoking in young people.

So, direct tobacco ads on TV and radio could help kids take up smoking. But the very same appeals in ads in print, on billboards, in shops and as sporting and cultural sponsorship apparently could not. This was the bizarre logic in governments at the time banning tobacco advertising in only selected media, but not across the board.

As ordinary commonsense and research highlighted the inanity of this policy, governments incrementally increased the number of media where cigarette ad bans applied. It took from September 1973 until April, 30 1996 (when tobacco sponsorship of cricket finally ended) for all forms of tobacco advertising and promotion to end in Australia. That’s 22 years and 8 months from start to finish.

With all the lessons learned from tobacco, I'm sure the wowsers will be able to go from a TV ban to a total ban in much less than 22 years and 8 months. Or at least they would do if there was 'anything like a serious move to do what we've done with tobacco' but, as Chapman has repeatedly assured us, there definitely isn't.

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