Thursday, 9 August 2012

Confused campaigning group assists plain packaging campaign

In the final two days before the end of the consultation period, Avaaz has been persuaded that plain packaging is a cause worth the international attention of global internet activists.

From this to this in a little over a year.

The plain packaging campaign on Avaaz's page calls itself 'our lungs vs. lobbyists', as if lobbying were a dirty word, and yet their personnel operate at the highest levels. Of their campaign against the war on drugs, their page says:
Last week Avaaz Executive Director Ricken Patel hand-delivered our over half a million signatures to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, world leaders and the global media in New York.  
Friends in high places, indeed.

The war on drugs of course has resulted in much more drug use in recent decades than we saw before it kicked off, and corresponding levels of crime. (I was told once by a senior civil servant in the Scottish Office that almost all crime was drug-related at some level.) How does one proceed from a campaign against a war on drugs to a campaign in favour of plain packaging – effectively an attack on legal sales of tobacco? It seems to me inevitable that when you get a powerful campaigning machine with access to the UN Secretary-General, everybody will want to use it for their own ends. It's a wonderful ... lobbying opportunity – even though, as someone has pointed out at Taking Liberties, one can't be sure that all the signatures are genuine as there is no thorough verification.

There are sound reasons for reconsidering the drugs war. It is hard to conceive how a better regulated drugs market is comparable to a market where retailers are penalised for selling tobacco and clear attempts made to make tobacco invisible in the retail environment – effectively to discourage sales. This is poor regulation. It puts the regulator and the purchaser at odds with one another, when they should be on the same side: at least to the extent of ensuring the customer has all relevant information about the product before making a purchase.

The campaign for plain packaging makes the unwarranted assumption that the mere presence of laws (and the absence of tobacco from view) will prevent youth take-up of smoking. The campaign against the drugs war simply recognises that illegal drugs make life more difficult for everybody by putting supply in the hands of the ruthless and the lawless. It also recognises that enormous profits are being made from drug trafficking.

Avaaz fails to make this connection. I am glad to see some of its Facebook supporters complaining about this campaign too!

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