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In the brave new world of public health, less information is more

It would be an exaggeration to say we've been inundated with complaints.

In the past few weeks however we have received a number of emails suggesting that since the introduction of plain packaging the taste of some cigarettes has changed.

One complaint concerned a well known brand so we asked the manufacturer and they assured us that "the content/recipe/formula hasn’t changed at all" so there is no logical reason why it should taste different.

Interestingly there were similar complaints following the introduction of plain packaging in Australia:

Long-term smokers find the taste of plain-packaged cigarettes worse than that of branded cigarettes, new research suggests.

I can't speak for other manufacturers because I haven't asked them but from what little evidence there is the effect does seem to be psychological.

I suspect too that it's very short-term because I don't remember the Australian 'story' lasting more than a few weeks.

Likewise there were very similar complaints that followed the introduction of self-extinguishing or lower ignition propensity (LIP) cigarettes a few years ago.

I don't remember them lasting more than a few weeks either.

Another complaint, or query, we've been responding to in recent weeks concerns the removal of information about the tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide levels on the new cigarette packs.

'They have to list ingredients on food packets. So why not cigarettes?' asked one aggrieved correspondent.

Another wrote: 'The new packaging give details of carcinogens in nicotine without specifying any information about the strength of the tar or CO2 components. So one buys completely blind. What exactly do the contents contain?'

The removal of the tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide levels has nothing to do with standardised packaging. It's part of the revised Tobacco Products Directive introduced across all member states by the European Union.

Instead of the TNCO levels the TPD stipulates that 50 per cent of the sides of packs must be covered with more health warnings – for example, 'Smoking kills – quit now', 'Tobacco smoke contains over 70 substances known to cause cancer' etc.

The argument, I believe, is that printing the TNCO levels on packs might lead consumers to think that some cigarettes are 'safer' than others.

In other words, consumers are too stupid to make informed choices based on hard facts so let's dumb down and remove anything that might confuse them.

The traffic light label developed by the Food Standards Agency to 'help you make healthier choices' works on a similar principle.

Nuance is for nerds. Propaganda, on the other hands, requires brevity, and slogans.

In the brave new world of public health, less information is more.

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Reader Comments (7)

This is nothing new. It is classic patronizing elitism of the type that led to the Trump and Brexit backlashes. Another example is that in the USA it used to be mandatory to list the alcohol content of liquor bottles, but forbidden for beer and other lower-alcohol drinks (the latter rule has been lifted, though I don't know the story of how it happened).

However, it is not limited to public health. I remember the first time I moved to Massachusetts, they had recently taken the direction designators off of highway exit splits. That is, instead of having "Exit 21W" and "Exit 21E" for the parts of the exit that went generally west and east, they were changed to 21A and 21B. The "reasoning" was that because the roads the exits lead to generally do not follow the cardinal directions, that these were not perfectly accurate. So rather than have imperfect but useful information, they got rid of all information. Because, presumably, they thought people are so stupid they think "W" means it goes due west, rather than going generally west-ish. (Oh, and they also give exits serial numbers rather than using the informative mile-marker number as the exit number, but that is another story.)

But I agree that public health is worse because of what they think information is. My favorite example are the interventions where they required chain restaurants to post calorie estimates for their products. The (very limited) evaluation studies of this declared that it had no effect. But what they examined was whether people ordered lower-calorie meals on average after the posting. Most of us would think that the purpose of information is to inform. Whether people decide to eat less or get more value for their money based on that information -- or, apparently, that those two average out to null net change -- is not a measure. But to public health, "information" is not meant to aid informed choice, but to manipulate actions. If it does not make people do what they want, they are not in favor of information.

As for different cigarettes posing different risk levels, *of course* they do. There is absolutely no way they could be exactly the same. The tobacco control adherence to that myth is on my list of six impossible things that tobacco controllers believe. Of course, the three statistics that were reported do not measure the difference in risk, and may not even be a good measure of more-vs-less. But they probably are the latter.

Friday, March 17, 2017 at 12:26 | Unregistered CommenterCarl V Phillips

Removing the same rights that other consumers are entitled to was my biggest gripe about plain packs.

It isn't about informing us. It is about treating us as lesser consumers in readiness for when we are openly criminalisd and that is the only reason for plain packs.

The difference in taste may just be because shopkeepers are giving people the wrong brand due to the fact it is difficult to tell them apart.

All consumers are equal and all have rights except smokers who are treated as scum.

Pp is not and has never been about health or information. It is simply a spiteful move by the thugs and bullies given a free licence to push around the sort of consumers they don't like.

Fatties, sugar, biscuits, etc next but i feel damn sure that whatever those same bullies like themselves, their people killing cars for example and the planes they fly in to conferences that pollute our air, will never be subjected to the same restrictions.

They can harm as many other people as they like and get away with it.

It is time these bullies were brought to account and govt began to look at whether or not it should be funding a hate campaign designed to stigmatise people and take from them every right afforded to others.

Friday, March 17, 2017 at 13:17 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Pat is quite correct. These bullies need sorting out. I think that cigarettes should list the tobacco used. For instance if you prefer Oriental tobacco to Virginia you should be able to tell which brands have what you desire. Legislation has skewed badly here. Legitimate users of tobacco who have no intention of quitting and enjoy the product have been completely screwed by Government caving into the likes of ASH and PHE.

Friday, March 17, 2017 at 16:13 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

Plain packaging - what a misnomer for what in fact is pure vandalism on intellectual property. What difference is between the 'public health' thugs that have vandalized the packaging of all tobacco products (not just cigarettes) and those Nazi thugs who destroyed and vandalized Jewish shops, schools etc during 1930s?

Friday, March 17, 2017 at 17:33 | Unregistered CommenterVlad

The lifestyle controllers that infiltrated public health and dominate tobacco control seek to control data since propaganda is their main source of influence. Free flow of information and open dialog is not in their interest. They must manipulate and suppress dissent to enable their lies to flourish. The sooner the public recognizes the anti-democratic and illiberal nature of tobacco control the better. They have started with tobacco and attacks on smokers and won't rest until tighter neo-Puritan agenda is firmly in place.

Friday, March 17, 2017 at 18:49 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

"Likewise there were very similar complaints that followed the introduction of self-extinguishing or lower ignition propensity (LIP) cigarettes a few years ago."

And those complaints were valid. I don't know how different it was in the US than the UK, if at all, but when they introduced those in the States, everyone immediately thought the cigarettes were of lower quality. Because they were.

Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 0:56 | Unregistered CommenterNate

What I do is remove cigarettes from plain packaging and place in one of the many proper boxes that have not been violated by disconnected politicians. Then I destroy the plain package box and weaken the misused political power.

Monday, March 20, 2017 at 17:41 | Unregistered Commentergray

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