The stupidity of the new wave of legislation. And why it doesn’t work. This is an editorial. Inspired by the latest news from The Netherlands. I was born and raised in that country. And I worked in the tobacco industry. So I can’t keep quiet about the proposed laws and the stupidity of it.
The last few years, more and more countries tighten the tobacco legislation. And even though we understand the reasoning behind the legislation, we can only shake our heads when we read the proposed or new laws.
Australia started with plain packaging on all tobacco products in 2012. And it caused nothing but headaches. The steady decline in the number of smokers suddenly halted. Smuggling boomed and the market was flooded with illegally produced cigarettes. It was so bad that the Australian government had to form a tobacco task force. Talk about a clusterfuck. You expect other countries would learn from it. But no, several other countries implemented it. Including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, and Hungary. Canada is introducing it, just as Singapore. And now The Netherlands too.
It will all lead to an increase in illegally produced cigarettes. Cigarettes not tested regularly by government bodies. So the amount of chemicals used is uncontrolled. By introducing plain packaging, the government is actually putting the health of smokers at risk.
And some countries, like Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, and Singapore include premium cigars in the plain packaging. That’s even more ridiculous. Cigar sales are only 1% of tobacco sales. And premium cigars aren’t enjoyed by the younger generation. That’s the target group for whom plain packaging has been invented. It simply makes no sense.
Pricing is another weapon used by governments. But used in an unprofessional and dumb way. A few years ago, the Dutch government decided to raise the tax with over a euro per pack. That led to an immediate decrease in tobacco sales. Not in tobacco consumption though. It forces border shops to bankruptcy. And in every bar or sports club, you could order cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco from Belgium and Germany. Or cigarettes from illegal factories.
All it caused was a huge tax leak to the neighbors and a rise in counterfeit cigarettes. You would expect that the politicians in charge would realize their mistake, but no. After a year they noticed a dramatic drop in tax income. Instead of fixing the tax leak, they decided to raise the tax again. Nicotine is actually good for the brain, so my suggestion for those politicians is to light up a good cigar or two.
First of all, realize there are different kinds of tobacco. Know what to fight and what not. Cigarettes are unhealthy and addictive. Yet cigars, or pipe tobacco, isn’t addictive. Cigars are natural products, it’s just tobacco and some natural glue. Unlike the chemically washed and altered cigarette tobacco, moderate cigar tobacco use doesn’t put your health at risk. Even the FDA (American Food & Drug Administration) concluded that in a study. And cigars aren’t smoked by young people. It’s a product for adults, who indulge in this stress reducing activity and thoroughly enjoy a premium product. Exempt cigars from plain packaging and other bullshit legislation.
Limit the number of points of sale
A few years ago, the Dutch cancer foundation ran an add. In that add, they had children count the number of tobacco points of sale. And compared that to points of sale for bread. Of course, they cheated, as they counted every single spot that sold tobacco. Even if it was just one SKU. And when it came to bread it had to be a specific bread. So all gas stations that sold sandwiches were counted as tobacco points of sales but not as bread points of sale. Aside from that, they proved that there is a huge number of shops that sell tobacco. Way too many points of sales. And 99% of these points of sales don’t sell premium cigars.
Why not limit the points of sales, instead of making the packaging less appealing? That’s a measure that will really help. Get tobacco out of supermarkets. Get them out of gas stations. Limit the sale of tobacco to proper tobacconists. That will bring down the points of sale from 30.000 to just over a thousand in The Netherlands alone. And those few hundred include convenience chains as Primera. If the government takes this suggestion even in a more strict way, the number of shops will be about a hundred shops. Now that would make a huge difference.
Then start working with a tobacco license system. Sell to a minor or break the rules, points will be deducted. And lose enough points, lose the license. It’s also a way to control the number of shops. And to ensure every shop has a big enough area to survive. Make those shops 18+. So no entry below that age. No products that appeal to the kids. No candy, no canned drinks, no magazines and so on. That is how you protect the younger generation from exposure to tobacco.
And allow indoor smoke areas again. In bars, restaurants, hotels and sports clubs. Now smokers are congregated outside, in the open air. For everyone to see. And exposing the younger generation to smokers. Hide the smokers inside, so kids don’t see them smoke. Smoke areas for cigarette smokers smell disgusting. That is more of a turn down for non-smokers than a group of people smoking outside, gathering in social conversations while smoking. And is more discouraging for the youngsters the government wants to prevent from starting.
So in conclusion, the current new legislation makes no sense. The stupidity of the new wave of legislation is unimaginable. It plays right into the hands of smugglers and counterfeiters. The result is that criminals will see a profit in illegal cigarette production. And with no results in creating a smoke-free generation. The solutions that could really work are being ignored. And cigars are the real victims, even though they cater to a whole different segment of the population. And aren’t as harmful as cigarettes. Time for politicians to wake up. Let’s hope that the Norwegian minister of health, Sylvi Listhaug, is the first of the many politicians to follow. She said that ‘”My starting point for this with public health is very simple. I do not plan to be the moral police, and will not tell people how to live their lives, but I intend to help people get information that forms the basis for making choices.” Now that’s a mindset more politicians should have.