Tobacco-funded ad campaign misleading

PUBLIC health experts say a campaign that links plain cigarette packaging with children buying ”chop chop” – unbranded loose tobacco – from criminal gangs is grossly misleading and indicative of a desperate industry.

The Association of Australian Retailers, which is bankrolled by big tobacco, has been running advertisements claiming children as young as 14 are smoking illegal tobacco smuggled by ”highly organised criminal networks”.

The claim is attributed to the government’s 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Kypros Kypri, an associate professor in the school of medicine and public health at the University of Newcastle, said there was no indication in the survey of how the 0.1 per cent of 14- to 19-year-olds who reported smoking unbranded loose tobacco had obtained it.

It was open to the tobacco industry to predict plain packaging would encourage youths to buy cheap counterfeit cigarettes from the underworld, but to claim it as fact was ”very misleading”, he said.

”I don’t know of any study that shows 14-year-olds get illegal tobacco from criminal gangs.”

A spokesman for the alliance, Craig Glasby, defended the ads, saying: ”Anything that might make illegal tobacco more accessible to young teenagers concerns me as a parent and as a responsible small retailer.”

Leaked internal documents prepared by the public relations strategists The Civic Group reveal the ads were designed to be ”aggressive” and to ”identify and leverage existing emotional drivers and prejudices”.

The documents also tell the tobacco company Philip Morris that the ads ”should be fundamentally fact-based and always completely accurate”.

Mike Daube, a professor of health policy at Curtin University, said other alliance ads had similarly dubious claims, including that the trade in illicit tobacco was ”equivalent to an estimated 16 per cent of the legal market”. That figure was in a 2011 Deloitte survey of 949 smokers commissioned by the three tobacco companies.

Professor Daube said the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare survey of more than 23,000 people had found fewer than one in 10 people had actually smoked unbranded tobacco.

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