Australia – taking the team gold in the tobacco control olympics

Thinking back on grade school, I remember being quite miffed that Canada was the world’s 2nd largest land mass (2nd?? that damned Russia!!). But for this country, 2nd in anything was pretty unusual. And there are things you really don’t want to lead in. There is no pleasure in being the world leader in oppression of any kind though some of my fellow citizens seem to think it a good thing to be first in tobacco control. But even if we actually once were the world leader in that, we would have to cede that coveted spot by a large margin to Australia.

Canada might have been early in banning electronic cigarettes but Australia was first. And to add insult to injury, Australia has also banned that evil smokeless tobacco which is still quite available in our fair country. Not to mention that what used to be considered a free and wild country is also pushing forward on plain packaging.

It is quite fitting that Australia was the setting for this year’s World Medical Association conference and that one of the keynotes was a call to extend bans on smokeless tobacco products (led by Ardis Hoven, chair of the American Medical Association). It is not fitting that a medical group advocated removing the available safer alternatives to a common risky practice when in every other field they would vehemently argue the need for harm reduction. You can bet that almost every member of that organization would support methadone treatment.

So it will be another confusion of concerns when the newly named Harm Reduction International meets in Adelaide in 2012. While it is not certain whether we will attend or not, if we do, we will be presenting about products that are banned in that country. We will not be able to do the same demonstrations of those products which ended up being one of the highlights of the Beirut conference. And Aussies seemed to form a high proportion of the most intrigued participants in our sessions; they were intrigued at learning about some practical solutions to smoking related harm and then depressed since their government had made a point of banning those solutions.

You’d think that as a former penal colony, the Land Down Under would be a little more sensitive to encroachments on personal freedoms but perhaps its a case of former prisoners missing being ordered about. Whatever the reasons, Australia is determined to be world leader in tobacco control and I suspect that Britain should be concerned lest the colony turns its gaze onto the next logical target and threatens Britain’s lead in demonizing and criminalizing alcohol consumption.

In some ways, attending Adelaide would bring our group closer to approximating the experience of the many individuals who work with illicit drugs with the difference that typically the risky behavior is illegal but the safer alternatives are not only legal but available, actively promoted and often subsidized.

-Paul L. Bergen

2 thoughts on “Australia – taking the team gold in the tobacco control olympics

  1. A little off topic, but here’s my pet theory about Australians (I am Britsh).
    Back in the 70s, Australians had almost mythical status among young English men. I encountered many on my student travels round Europe. They were, to a man, confident, fearless and remained unruffled by any crisis. It is an Australian cricketer who holds the record for the amount of beer consumed on a flight from Australia to England. Crocodile Dundee was based on fact. Last year, during the Ashes cricket series between Australia and England, commentators were poking fun at the vast number of ridiculous Health and Safety warnings in the stadiums. What changed during those thirty years?

    The young men I met in the seventies were the children of adventurous pioneers. More recent immigrants to Australia are misanthropic people with an authoritarian and conformist tendency, who think they will find the order and uniformity they perceive as lacking in the UK. Fat (big obesity crisis now), horrified at the slightest whiff of smoke (unless it’s cooking them something) and plastered with sun cream on the dullest of days; their children must have Crocodile Dundee turning in his grave. California, but less money and worse teeth.

  2. Hello Jonathan and thank you,

    You mention the two things I was mulling about including and then didn’t…California and Crocodile Dundee. I was picturing the latter with his knife and a phrase along the lines “now this is a risk” and perhaps his loss of following has to do with not so much his being an old stereotype but that he does not reflect the new puritanism sweeping the land. California I was considering as another example of where a territory that once represented freedom (wild west and gold rush) swung as boldly the other way into passive aggressive types cowering in their (comfortable) houses and spying on their neighbors.

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