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Opposing Arguments (and How to Counter Them)
6. Will lead to plain packaging of other products the slippery slope / domino effect

A key argument used in the tobacco industry media campaigns in many countries is that if plain packaging for tobacco is introduced, it sets a precedent for other consumer products, such as soft drinks, alcohol, or fatty foods. The argument is that plain packaging is a step too far towards a “nanny state” and will lead to reduced product innovation across all sectors. In this way, the tobacco industry tries to get support from the other industries in opposing the policy generally.

This argument is often put forward in campaigns and media articles by third-party organizations, posing as independent voices but which receive funding from the tobacco industry.

For instance, in the UK, the “Hands Off Our Packs” campaign, run by FOREST, strongly pushed this argument forward. The Institute for Economic Affairs, a libertarian think tank, hosted events and published papers opposing plain packaging, using the slippery slope argument. It was an issue regularly cited in media articles about those that oppose plain packaging. 1 Imperial Tobacco UK also deployed the slippery slope argument in an anti-plain packaging YouTube video advert in Britain — 2020 Vision. 2 The advert misleadingly suggests that by 2020 all products perceived to be unhealthy will be sold in plain packaging. The advert was promoted through the distribution of leaflets on petrol forecourts.

 


 

In Sweden, the UK, and Canada, the tobacco industry, or groups opposing the plain packaging of tobacco, have even set up whole fake shops as media stunts, where all the products, such as drink, crisps, coffee, etc., are in mock plain packaging with health warnings. The images above are from a convenience store converted by Students for Freedom (a libertarian campaign group that opposes plain packaging) in Canada.

In Australia, Imperial Tobacco unrolled a nationwide PR campaign based on the “No Nanny State” theme and set up a website called nonannystate.com.au.

The JTI website states:

“with an increasing number of governments considering laws to ban branding on tobacco packaging, the popular alcohol, food and soda products that we know today could look very different in the future if the slippery slope trend continues.” 3

BATs submission to New Zealand’s Health Committee states:

“There is a very real risk that Plain Packaging, once introduced for tobacco products, will be extended to other goods.” [para. 5.9]

 

Media campaigns using the slippery slope argument were run in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand which included full page advertisements such as the ones pictured here sponsored by JTI (left) and BAT (New Zealand) (right).

The Counter Arguments

  • “The World Health Organization is not recommending adoption of plain packaging for products other than tobacco products. Tobacco products are uniquely harmful, and there is a body of evidence showing that plain packaging of tobacco products is an effective public health intervention.” 4
  • There is very little evidence that plain packaging is being considered for other products anywhere around the world. There is as yet very little research evidence in relation to plain packaging of other products that could support such proposals. Plain packaging of other products has not so far been proposed by a government in any country that has adopted the plain packaging of tobacco products.
  • Regulation of any product needs to be based on the risks to individuals and society of using that product, and evidence of what works. Different products will be regulated differently according to their risks and benefits.
  • Tobacco is a uniquely damaging product that requires unique regulations. Only tobacco control is the subject of the first and only public health international treaty (the FCTC).
  • The stated aim of many governments in their tobacco-control strategies is to eradicate all tobacco use and have a “tobacco-free society.” 5 This is not the aim for the regulatory control of any other potentially unhealthy consumer products.
    The message for tobacco is simple: stop smoking. The message for potentially unhealthy food products is much more nuanced, where the advice is moderation within an overall sensible diet. 6
  • The tobacco industry often uses the “slippery slope” argument to try to resist tobacco control measures, 7 such as graphic health warnings. Released internal industry documents from 1996 show it has been part of Philip Morris’s strategy to resist tobacco-control measures for decades. 8 As far back as 1972, the Chairman of Rothman’s said:

    “The precedent is one which could easily come to affect other industries. For instance, a number of medical scientists claim that butter and milk are dangerous to the health of some people. It is recognised that drinking too much liquor or reckless driving are hazards to life. . . can we expect all these products to carry a ‘danger’ labels . . . ?” 9

    To date, only tobacco products carry large graphic health warnings, so the slippery slope argument has not turned out to be true for other tobacco control measures
End Notes

1 For instance, M. Boyle, “Junk Food and Booze Could Follow Tobacco in Plain Pack Push,” Bloomberg.com, 23 January 23, 2015 (accessed February 2015).

2 Viewable here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3hCYS9qc3c (accessed March 2, 2012).

3 See http://www.jti.com/in-focus/slippery-slope/(accessed March 2, 2017).

4 Quote from the WHO website: http://www.who.int/campaigns/no-tobacco-day/2016/faq-plain-packaging/en/index2.html(accessed March 2, 2017).

5 For instance, in March 2011 the New Zealand Government adopted the Smoke Free 2025 goal. Ireland has also adopted a goal of being tobacco free by 2025 in its tobacco control strategy available from:http://www.dohc.ie/publications/pdf/TobaccoFreeIreland.pdf?direct=1. The Scottish Government has adopted a goal of being tobacco free by 2034 in its Tobacco Control Strategy for Scotland is available from:http://www.gov.scot/resource/0041/00417331.pdf.

6 These points are set out in a New Scientist article available from: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22530120.200-if-tobacco-gets-plain-packets-will-junk-food-be-next/#.VQF7FmbmzyI.

7 S. Chapmanand S. M. Carter. “Avoid Health Warnings on all Tobacco Products for Just as Long as We Can”: A history of Australian tobacco industry efforts to avoid, delay and dilute health warnings on cigarettes.” Tobacco Control 2003;12:iii13–iii22.

8 Public Policy Plan. January 15, 1996. Philip Morris Records. Available from: https://www.industrydocumentslibrary.ucsf.edu/tobacco/docs/jrjk0061.

9 R. A. Irish. Chairman’s address, Rothman’s Pall Mall (Australia) Ltd. Tobacco trade journal (Queensland) October 5, 1972:4–5