Tag Archives: cigarettes

On the pleasure of smoking

The Conversation

Simon Chapman, University of Sydney

Repeatedly, studies have found a large majority of smokers regret ever starting to smoke: 85% in this study, 90% in this four nation study. Each year, some 40% of smokers make an attempt to stop, with most relapsing within weeks.

Many fork out considerable money in pharmaceuticals along the way in the attempt to shake their smoking. Snake-oil, evidence-free quick-cure merchants advertising on telegraph poles for “laser therapy quitting” happily make up to A$500 from the more gullible.

With 12.8% of Australians aged 14 and over smoking daily, and 90% of these regretting they ever started, today just 1.28% are contented smokers. Recent evidence shows 55% of young smokers now approve of plain packaging with their ghoulish, unavoidable picture warnings. Can there be any product that enjoys less consumer satisfaction and customer loyalty?

One of the most common taunts pro-smokers hurl at tobacco control advocates with great relish is the claim they are enemies of pleasure: they just can’t stand the thought or sight of people taking pleasure from smoking. Perhaps they are right. Airport smoking rooms strike me as about the most fun and pleasure you could get. The queues of non-smokers you see waiting to get in just to experience it all pretty much clinch that argument.

The picture being painted here is of elegant smokers, hand gesturing and exhaling as in Richard Klein’s Cigarettes are sublime constantly pleasuring themselves in a way denied to non-smokers who have not woken up to the joys of nicotine.

But what is it that nicotine addicts like about pulling the chemical deep into their lungs some 90,000 times a year?

In 1994, the New York Times published the ratings of two of the USA’s most renowned addiction specialists, Neil Benowitz and Jack Henningfield, on the relative addictiveness of nicotine, caffeine, heroin, cocaine, alcohol and marijuana (cannabis). They rated each of these on a scale of one (most serious) to six (least serious).

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/7rZSI/1/

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/yEdb7/1/

Both rated nicotine higher in dependence than all the other drugs. By “dependence” they meant how difficult it is for the user to quit, the relapse rate, and the percentage of people who eventually become dependent.

Nicotine withdrawal also rated high (third behind the often discussed agonies of alcohol and heroin withdrawal). Both experts rated nicotine fourth behind cocaine, heroin and alcohol when it came to reinforcement (essentially, the pleasure given by the drug). But both rated nicotine last on intoxication, behind even caffeine.

Taking all this together, a picture emerges of nicotine dependent people regretful they started smoking, living in full knowledge of their high dependency, experiencing often unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they have not been able to smoke for a while, and being relieved of this unpleasantness quickly when lighting up another cigarette.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include headache, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea, fatigue, drowsiness and insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depressed mood, increased hunger and caloric intake and of course, constant tobacco cravings.

Smokers know from the earliest days of their addiction these feelings can disappear within a few seconds as the nicotine is rapidly transported from their lungs to their brains where dopamine is released and experienced as pleasurable.

Smokers often insist the pleasure from this release can somehow be experienced independently of the pleasures of the nicotine withdrawal symptoms rapidly dissipating.

So what is the “pleasure” being experienced here? When you have a toothache and this is relieved by a strong analgesic, your mood can quickly elevate as the codeine begins to work.

The argument that smoking and inhaling nicotine is “pleasurable” is a bit like saying being beaten up every day is something you want to continue with, because hey, it feels so good when the beating stops for a while.

Holiday periods like the upcoming Christmas break are time-honoured opportunities for smokers to make quit attempts. I used to smoke (in late school and to my mid 20s). I thought smoking was a great way to make a statement about myself that would impress those I cared to impress and irritate those I cared to irritate. But I always thought it tasted disgusting, was a stupid thing to continue and threatened to limit my early career opportunities.

I recall just drifting out of smoking, a pathway common to many ex-smokers. And like many smokers, I recall it being anything but difficult or torturous. This is one of the best kept secrets in tobacco control. While there are many smokers who struggle to quit and fail many times, there are many more who found the experience easier than they expected, sometimes far easier.

There are many more ex-smokers in Australia than smokers. The common narratives of quitting smoking ushering in the pleasures of tasting food and drink better, feeling physically better and of course the pleasure of having more disposable income can be compared with the supposed pleasures of smoking. Good luck if you are planning to quit. It’s the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.

The ConversationSimon Chapman, Emeritus Professor in Public Health, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

How the tobacco industry is gaming Australian health regulations

The Conversation

Steven Greenland, Swinburne University of Technology

Australia’s tough tobacco regulations are acting as a catalyst for the industry to develop sophisticated marketing practices. These companies are gaming the system by anticipating regulatory impact and then using unregulated marketing elements to overcome it.

Australia has been a guiding light for countries looking to improve public health through the effective regulation of tobacco, which remains the world’s biggest cause of preventable illness and death, and still kills around 15,000 Australians annually.

December 2012 saw the implementation of Australia’s innovative plain packaging legislation, this was followed by four 12.5% annual tobacco tax excise increases. As a result the number of Australian smokers has fallen to a record low.

However the tobacco industry has used several strategies, including price reduction, brand differentiation and promoting the idea of healthier cigarettes, to undermine Australia’s new regulatory environment.

Plain packaging was introduced in 2012 to much fanfare, but tobacco companies are making serious efforts to alleviate the effects of plain packaging on their bottom line.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Pricing for packets

To offset price hikes manufacturers have expanded lower priced product ranges, with new ultra low priced brands. One example of this is the British American Tobacco Australia’s (BATA) Just Smokes, which sells for around 70% of the premium brand prices. BATA has also shifted Rothmans, previously a premium brand, into the economy segment by cutting its price by more than 30%.

Another pricing initiative is twin pack promotion. Most consumers recognise that progressively larger packs offer progressively lower unit prices – a lower cost per single item or single pack.

This used to be true for tobacco, with the largest cartons (usually with 200 cigarettes) offering best value. However, since 2012 discounted twin packs represent best value.

A supermarket twin pack, per cigarette price, is up to 10% cheaper than single packs – effectively discouraging single pack purchases. Australia’s leading brand Winfield twin pack, per cigarette price, is equal to or below that of larger cartons.

Regulatory price increases are financial deterrents to smoking. The low price branding and discounting strategies in Australia are clear attempts to get around these, and reduce smokers’ financial motivation to quit or cut down.

Heavily discounted twin packs also teach smokers, through financial reward and penalty, to buy twin rather than single packs. This is of particular concern since research shows that larger purchases trigger higher consumption.

In 2014 the industry claimed tobacco consumption had actually increased after plain packaging. While this was disproved, it suggests big tobacco anticipated increased consumption as smokers switched to twin pack purchase behaviour.

New tobacco products and promotions

Plain packaging was expected to restrict tobacco brands. However, after 2012 manufacturers introduced numerous new products, and brand ranges actually expanded.

For example, Australia’s leading brand Winfield supported more than 20 brand variants in 2015-2016 compared to just 12 in 2012-2013. Brand differentiation is a proven marketing approach for generating greater sales, with each variant targeting a specific consumer market segment.

Since plain packaging was introduced, tobacco companies have varied the names of brands as well. Names have evolved to include the information previously covered by packaging, such as colour and new product features. For example, Dunhill Infinite is now Dunhill Infinite White + Taste Flow Filter.

Today around 80% of Australia’s leading brands’ variant names include a colour, compared to less than half before plain packaging. Tobacco companies are also using colours to mislead consumers that certain product ranges are “healthier” options.

A universal colour code has been promoted by the industry in which smokers interpret lighter colours (white, silver, gold, yellow and blue) as being less harmful, and darker colours (red and black) as more harmful. Before plain packaging colour hues were a pack design component, now the myth of healthier tobacco options is perpetuated by colour names. This is disturbing from a public health perspective as it represents industry efforts to lessen smokers’ health motivations for quitting.

The effects of clever marketing

Australia’s tobacco regulations have significantly reduced smoking. However, their impact would be greater without unscrupulous industry initiatives to overcome and thwart them.

Industry response to plain packaging and excise increases have not been simple marketing efforts to increase sales, but illustrate cynical attempts to reduce financial and health motivations for quitting, and to encourage smokers to smoke more. Australian regulators, and those in other countries, should therefore consider further regulation.

Research suggests that future effective controls might include:

  • Introducing a standard fixed per stick price for all cigarettes – preventing differentiation by price and cheaper brand options
  • Prohibiting price variation by pack size – preventing volume discounting or twin pack promotion that encourage smokers to make larger purchases and smoke more
  • Restricting pack size to a maximum of 10 or 20 cigarettes to limit increased consumption associated with larger pack sizes
  • Banning colour variant names – removing colour-health connotations
  • Restricting brand variant ranges, for example to one variant or representation per brand, to limit the way tobacco companies use differentiation to increase sales.

The tobacco industry is committed to gaming regulations, like plain packaging and tax excise increases, and developing approaches to undermine their impact. However, the Australian government is equally committed to reducing the national adult daily smoking rate to 10% by 2018. The additional tobacco controls outlined above should help the government achieve this.

The ConversationSteven Greenland, Associate professor, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

A dissenting economist on GST: we should charge more on beer and smokes

The Conversation

Harry Bloch, Curtin University

Recently, 49 prominent Australian economists were polled by the Economic Society of Australia on the issue of GST reform.

Each member of the panel was asked whether they agreed with the following statement:

Increasing government revenue collected through the Goods and Services Tax (GST) by removing exemptions (such as food, health and education) is better than achieving the same extra revenue by increasing the GST rate while retaining the existing exemptions.

Respondents were given five choices ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”. The comments were highly varied, but a slight majority of respondents, 54%, chose “agree” or “strongly agree”.

I was among the 11% who chose to strongly disagree.

Among the respondents was Professor John Freebairn, an expert on tax policy. John focusses on the efficiency and equity aspects of the proposed removal of exemptions, arguing that “A broader base and lower rate reduces distortions to the mix of spending choices”.

Not surprisingly, he strongly agrees with the statement that exemptions should be removed, albeit subject to concerns about how the extra revenue is spent including possible compensation for low income groups on equity grounds.

My own comment in strongly disagreeing with the removal of current exemptions is that “it is appropriate for different categories of consumption to be discriminated for (food, health and education) or against (alcohol and tobacco) based on their considered contribution to social well being.”

The design of the GST, including the range of exemptions, was the outcome of a political compromise. In spite of the hyperbole that accompanied the political arguments of the time, the end result did arguably represent the will of the people.

Were people who favoured a GST with exemptions over a tax without exemptions poorly informed or misguided about the efficiency benefits of a broad-based tax over a discriminatory tax (in that it favoured some items of consumption over others)?

Many economists would answer yes to this question, but not me. Critical to my dissent is my view on the proper method for evaluating the benefits society derives from the goods and services consumed.

The standard method in economics for evaluating societal benefits from this consumption is to add up the benefits to each and every individual from their own consumption. Exceptions are allowed where a consumption activity has clear impact on others, such as smoking in an enclosed area. Otherwise, the method implies that government interventions that change the composition of what people consume are distorting in the sense of lowering overall benefits.

Sound good? Fortunately or unfortunately we live in a highly interdependent society. The consumption activities of each of us impact on our family, friends, neighbours and even the society at large. Although these impacts are usually very small, they do add up over large groups.

In this sense, there is a social impact of individual behaviour that often diverges from its private impact. Economists tend to downplay the difference between social impact and private impact, partly because we tend to be believers in individual liberty (“small l” liberals) and partly because economics lacks proper tools to deal with the difference.

So far I have dealt with general concepts; now let us turn to the specifics of the exemptions allowed under the current GST arrangements. Big exemptions, in terms of GST revenue foregone, are for health, education and most food consumed at home.

Using standard economic analysis of supply and demand, exempting these goods and services from GST means we have a healthier and better educated population that spends more time eating at home than would be the case with a uniform rate of GST. Is this good or bad for Australian society?

My fellow economists who agreed or strongly agreed with the statement posed by the ESA think the distortion of individual consumption choices through the GST is bad. Some explicitly mention the use of other methods to achieve socially desired results, but that involves reinterpreting the statement posed by the ESA. I evaluate the implied outcome of more education, more health care and more food at home directly on its merits and I think it is good for Australian society.

This is based partly on my own preferences about the type of society in which I live and partly on my understanding of how education, health and home life contribute to social cohesion. I’ll stop here, for the analysis of social cohesion would take me beyond the usual boundaries of economic analysis and the limits of my own expertise.

The ConversationHarry Bloch, John Curtin Distinguished Emeritus Professor, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs