2 October 2022
By Jackson Graham, The Age
An advertising campaign that calls out tobacco companies for their tactics to make products seem less harmful launches on Sunday amid fears that smoking is on the rise for the first time since records began.
The television and online ads, which call cigarettes “the con that kills”, will hit screens as early signs indicate vaping and e-cigarettes have opened a “gateway” for more young people to smoke cigarettes and rollies.
One in 10 Victorians smoke and smoking has declined since the 1970s for men and women.
“We are potentially going to see with 18-to-24 year-olds and teens, an uptick in smoking prevalence,” Quit Victoria director Dr Sarah White said. “That will be the first time since records began.”
“We’re waiting on latest results for both adults and secondary school students in Victoria. And my guess is that we’re going to see smoking rates go up.”
Quit Victoria’s campaign is the first to highlight how tobacco companies use techniques including holes in cigarettes and additives such as menthol to manipulate smokers. Traditionally, anti-tobacco agencies have used shock imagery, such as a tar-sodden sponge likened to lungs or heart-wrenching television ads about children losing loved ones, to encourage smokers to quit.
“I don’t think there’s a single thing on cigarettes or in them that’s there as a mistake or accident,” White said.
“The tobacco industry has thrown, over the decades, billions of dollars into their product development and marketing.”
The ad campaign describes how cigarettes, which kill two out of three lifetime smokers, use additives and holes in the filter that mask the harshness of raw tobacco but do not stop the inhalation of hundreds of toxins.
Techniques to manipulate smokers became public knowledge after a landmark 1998 US legal agreement.
Despite this, Cancer Council Victoria research found last year nearly three-quarters of all smokers were unaware tobacco companies mixed additives such as menthol into the cigarette to hide the harshness of the smoke.
White said menthol dulls pain receptors and makes the nicotine more addictive. “It acts to anaesthetise some of the cells in your throat,” she said.
Nearly half of smokers of manufactured cigarettes did not know that tiny holes around filters made the smoke feel less harsh, the study found.
Ernesto Diaz, 39, began smoking as a 16-year-old in an act of teenage rebellion and an attempt to fit in. He quit smoking after he suffered a stroke at the age of 24.
Diaz initially found the taste of cigarettes disgusting, but said later it was “nice, even though it might be harsh”.
After ignoring warnings from doctors that cigarettes put him at greater risk, he suffered a stroke.
“At that age, I was more of a superhero,” Diaz said. He quit smoking after the stroke and undergoing nine months of rehab.
He said a public campaign calling out cigarette companies was “definitely good” but he did not believe it would have cut through to him as a teenager. However, he said the shock of images showing the effects of smoking on the brain may have swayed him.
“That’s powerful,” he said. “If I had seen that then I would have gone, ‘well bugger it, I’m not smoking’.”
White said Quit does not know if the ad will encourage people to stop smoking and that campaigns that evoked fear still had a place. Quit also had success with a satirical ad in the early 2000s that depicted tobacco companies as contemptuous of smokers’ health.
The new ads are the first campaign since Quit ads stopped airing during 2020 because of COVID-19.
“We think it’s a really important piece of foundation knowledge for people who are smoking and also thinking about experimenting with vaping,” White said.
VicHealth chief executive Dr Sandro Demaio said industry manipulation misleading smokers needed to be called out.
“The tobacco industry’s primary concern remains their bottom line,” he said.
“The idea that any tobacco product offers reduced harm is simply an illusion – but an illusion with deadly consequences.”
For more information visit theconthatkills.org.au