The Australian Retailers Association mounted a frantic campaign against plain packaging for cigarettes.  The Association lost and the first plain package cigarettes with graphic images of the dangers of smoking are out.  No matter how much money they threw at the campaign the Association was bound to lose.  Parents of young children would not have empathised, smokers don’t care and most non-smokers will be thrilled to have those cancer sticks exposed for what they are. Nobody cared, except perhaps civil rights groups.

The multiple radio advertisements I was badgered with tried to convince its audience that plain packaging won’t work. That it would not stop people from smoking. What the adverts and the Retailers Association failed to mention, for obvious reasons, is that plain packaging will put a crimp their profits. It’s true that when I smoked plain packaging and cigarettes under the counter would not have influenced me. On the other hand colourful cigarette boxes work beautifully on beginners. When they get to the shop smokers immediately know their preferred brand and they will be loyal to it to the bitter end.

Colourful packaging was the last hurrah as far as cigarette advertising goes.  Now that accepting sponsorship from cigarette companies is, excuse the pun, on the nose and cigarette ads are banned, pomoting their product on cigarette boxes was all that was left to cigarette companies.  If you’re a young person starting down that emphysema road, then cool is everything and emphysema is either a myth or likely to happen to somebody else. If all packaging looks the same, it cuts back on the allure.

I remember Virginia Slims. I loved them in the 1990s. They were long and elegant, reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s lighting up at the end of very long cigarette holders.  (So elegant is that image that I’ve seen it trying to sell chocolate products.) I would hold my Virginia Slims a certain way, taking deep breaths and exhaling with my head tilted sideways and up and my eyes half shut. I felt really stylish.

According to Wikipedia, the brand was introduced in 1968 and marketed to professional women using the slogan: ‘You’ve come a long way baby’. Later campaigns used the slogan ‘It’s a woman thing’ and ‘Find your voice.’ Wikipedia also states that ‘media watch groups considered this campaign to be responsible for a rapid increase in smoking among teenage girls.’  It must have been a promoter’s dream and a parent’s nightmare.

I’m glad the Australian Retailer’s Association campaign failed. The Association lives in a world as we all do where to abuse an old cliché, advertising is king. Get the right angle on a product is the wisdom of the day then throw enough money at it and it will usually work. But in this case no amount of money helped; there’s no empathy and no interest. As I said before, nobody gives a damn.

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