A tale about smoking

Written by Laura Revsbech Winther

Edited by Sinéad O’Ferrall & Helen Myrr

Once upon a time there was a world in which the tobacco industry ruled. To secure a future generation of smokers (i.e. profit) the industry undertook research into what appealed to teenagers,and came up with products like menthol flavoured cigarettes or “light” versions. Children and adolescents would be told by the tobacco industry that ‘kids don’t smoke’, and that they should wait until they were of age to make the decision about smoking. However, that just made the products even more attractive to this age group. Some of the adolescents, who did not believe tobacco products could be very harmful, when they were legal to adults, managed to get hold of cigarettes and the contemporaries would gather around them drawn by the ‘dangerous’ products, the dream of appearing older and the wish to be a member of the popular group. The children would start taking puffs of the cigarettes and then progress to inhaling, and they would all feel boosted with energy by being part of this group ritual. They were popular, they appeared older and they sent a strong signal that they weren’t afraid of anything.

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However, when they turned 18, 19 or 20, when they had become mature adults and therefore no longer needed the cigarettes as a symbol of adulthood and risk taking behaviour, they could not stop smoking. It was as if their fingers were glued on to the cigarette packages, and their free will belonged to the tobacco industry. They now fully comprehended that the cigarettes they consumed every day killed 6 million people annually, and that they had a risk of 2 in 3 of dying from their habit, but no matter how hard they tried to quit, no matter how much they wanted not to be part of these statistics, most of them could not give up smoking once they had started. Almost as if the tobacco industry knew that the smokers someday would want to break off their relationship with the cigarettes, the industry had added addictive components to the cigarettes to ensure that they most likely would continue consuming until they died.

The global population of smokers and non-smokers at risk of taking up smoking all needed help. Help came in the year 2003, when countries all over the world signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – an auspicious law designed with the aim of reducing demand and supply of cigarette products. However, despite the law’s effect in reducing cigarette consumption, it only seemed to have limited effect on smoking uptake in adolescents. Stronger measures were needed.

Tasmania had some of the highest smoking rates in Australia. 40% of young men smoked, a number which had not decreased significantly over the last decade. With alarmingly high rates of smoking among teenagers, rates that hadn’t declined from 2005-2011, a future generation of smokers seemed to be secured. Research had shown that 80% of all adult smokers started before age 18, so if t adolescents experimenting with cigarettes could be prevented, smoking as a behaviour could be almost eradicated in the long run.

The Australian Professor Jon Berrick and his team of researchers in Singapore developed exactly such a plan to save future generations from the damaging effects of tobacco with a tobacco endgame. Never before had anyone suggested to reach the aim of a tobacco free generation by preventing sales of tobacco products to people born in 2000 and beyond (generation 2000). Although the legal age of smoking remained to be 18, those born in 2000 and later would not be able to purchase the cigarettes even once they turn 18.

A group of people in Tasmania met with Jon Berrick,believing his bill could pave the way for a tobacco free generation in Tasmania. In August 2012, congress member Ivan Dean presented the bill to the Upper House of the Parliament in Tasmania and received strong support. The tobacco industry strongly opposed the bill, and some retailers feared they would lose profits. However, help came from unexpected quarters. The young Tasmanian adults age 18-29 were strong supporters of the bill, some of whom wished they had been protected from tobacco products before it was too late. Another, a Tasmanian retailer, publicly told her story about how she had stopped selling cigarettes after seeing how members of her community became sick and died from products purchased in her shop.

In March 2015 the bill was debated again in the Parliament with strong support, and within a couple of years the bill was enforced. Never again would Tasmania give up on its youth and smoking became within generations completely eradicated.

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