Is it time to hit food and alcohol intake?
Should we bring in measures to restrict the harmful effects of takeaway curries and pints of larger? photograph: getty images
With new scare tactics being used to stop people smoking, should we apply the same methods to the food and alcohol industries?
On February 1st, Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, signed regulations which will compel tobacco firms to include graphic photographs on cigarette packs which highlight the many health dangers of smoking.
This new move – the latest in a series of anti-smoking legislation which included the decision a few years ago not to make cigarette packs visible in retail outlets – is very similar to how Australia has gone about dramatically reducing its smoking rate.
Last year, Australian courts approved the toughest known series of anti-smoking measures anywhere in the world which sees all logos and branding being removed from cigarette packs. In place of the tobacco company’s name, there is now a series of grotesque pictures of the cancerous tumours that are caused by smoking.
In Sydney, smoking is banned on the beaches of Manly and Bondi among others, the city of Fremantle does not allow smoking in any outside dining areas and there are immediate plans to outlaw smoking under covered waiting areas for buses as well as within 10 metres of school playgrounds.
There are now the beginnings of calls within the country for smoking – anywhere – to be banned outright. Smoking in Australia is now the vice that dare not speak its name.
The net result of this package of measures – which has included a 25 per cent price rise in the price of a pack of cigarettes – is that the smoking rate in the country is now down to an all-time low.
The last figures available (from 2011 and before more restrictive measures were brought in) show that only 15 per cent of Australians now smoke, down from 34 per cent in 1980 – a time when there was little restriction on smoking.
While research shows that – on a global level – smoking rates tend to decrease by 4 per cent for every 10 per cent price increase, newer research shows that showing graphic images of the damage smoking does to our bodies is even more effective than price increases.
In the US where smoking has gone from being a “cool” thing to do (in the 1950s/60s) to an almost sub-criminal status these days, smoking rates are at an all-time low at 10 per cent in 2012.
When the first links between smoking and lung cancer were established in the 1950s, some eight out 10 people in the developed world smoked – whether “lightly” or “heavily”. That figure is now down to about two out of 10 people. Study after study has shown that whenever a country/region/area brings in specific anti-smoking measures, the rate of consumption dutifully falls. The more extreme the measures, the more dramatic the drop.
So if action begets reaction, why not start looking at what other noxious and potentially fatal substances we put into our bodies? Come on down alcohol and fast food.