In the brave new world of public health, less information is more
Friday, March 17, 2017 at 9:15
Simon Clark

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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