In 1977 the Medical Journal of Australia reported with approval that the latest Australian Government figures showed the trend towards low-tar cigarettes was continuing. “[T]here is quite good evidence,” said the Journal, “that the risk of lung cancer from smoking is related to the tar yield of cigarettes, so those who are unable to give up the habit of smoking altogether are urged to try to regulate their intake of tar. The National Warning Against Smoking has suggested that such people should keep their tar ‘intake’ below 150mg per day to minimize their health risk.”

Within a couple of years cigarette companies were coming under pressure to help we nicotine addicts comply with advice like that by stating the tar and nicotine content on the packet instead of having to rely on irregular publication of test results from the government analytical laboratory. A Senate committee recommended compulsion and the Federal Government and the tobacco industry agreed on a voluntary code that saw labelling changed.

Cigarette packets from 1982 onwards began to carry, admittedly in very small print, a figure for the tar content and the nicotine content for the individual brand. Aided by marketing men who branded fags with words like “medium”, “light” and “extra light’ as the tar content got lower, smokers began following the Medical Journal’s advice. There was a massive switch towards low tar cigarettes.

You might have expected the social engineers to be pleased with their success – but no! Those evil tobacco companies had found a way to stop people giving up altogether by doing what they were told. Hence the latest redesign of cigarette packaging banning the use of words like “light” and prohibiting the publication of details of the tar and nicotine content.

I am now waiting with interest to see which comes first: an apology from the Medical Journal of Australia for falsely saying that the risk of lung cancer was related to tar content or the class action against the Federal Health Department for not allowing consumers to be told important information.

A declaration of interest: Richard Farmer was given the title “The Lobbyist of Last Resort” by a Federal Health Minister for past efforts working for a tobacco company. He is now hoping that the maker of his brand will return to the pre-1982 high nicotine content even though they will not be able to tell him they have done so.

Peter Fray

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