War on Tobacco in England

By Ryan Gilbert

As one walks down the streets of London, they can look down and see litter like any other major city in the world. But it’s what on the litter that makes it unique. The litter I’m specifically talking about is cigarette cartons. The advertising on cigarette cartons in England actually discourages people from buying them. They show birth defects, rotten teeth, cancer, and even male impotence on the cover of every package. Anyone who lights one up has to see their possible future staring right back at them. Although this strategy to defer smoking in England somewhat interferes with the cigarette industry as a whole, it shows that the government here can see beyond money and cares about the general well-being of its people. In America it always seems like our government isn’t working for the people and only to fill its own pockets. Taking gifts from lobbyists and working for their own interests seems to be just part of the job in American politics. In fact, I don’t think anyone would have the guts in Congress to propose this regulated advertising on cigarette cartons because the tobacco industry is so big in America. So what does this advertising communicate to the people like me who aren’t used to such aggressive tactics to discourage people from smoking?


For one thing it communicates bravery. It took bravery for the government to take action against an industry that has historically had a strong grip on the world and its youth. I’m sure just as many people in England have made money off of tobacco and the cigarette industry as in America. I mean even Winston Churchill, a true symbol of the English around the world, was never seen without his famous cigar. The British were so bold in their attack on the tobacco industry they even took away any brand recognized color schemes from the packages. For example, imagine if Marlboro package in the United States lost its signature red and white design and was replaced with a black package and a picture of rotten gums. That’s how aggressive the campaign against smoking has been in England, and how aggressive it should be in the United States as well.


Not only does the advertising on cartons communicate bravery, but it also communicates concern for the nations well-being. A huge institution in the UK is the National Health Service, or NHS. This is an organization which was founded to give all people affordable health care and is currently the UK’s top employer. This organization has played such a crucial role in the health of the country, and it was put in place by Parliament. This is just another example of how the government here is more concerned about the quality care people need, and not the money the people can pay to afford it. The same principle goes for the cigarette cartons. Parliament saw a need of the people, so they acted in the people’s best interest. I’m sure it was difficult to put both the NHS and the Cigarette ads into effect but they did it anyway. I don’t get the same feeling from the American Government. We have fought for years over healthcare. There’s no National Health Service in America that works nearly as good as the institution they have in the UK. The tobacco industry is still advertising to young people, the ads are colorful and attractive. Where’s the concern there for the well-being of the country? Where’s the progress they owe to the American people? It’s hard to realize how little concern a government can have for its people until you go to one which really cares.


Another thing Tobacco advertising communicates is the acknowledgement of the people’s voice as the leader of the nation. Just like in America, the majority of people in England don’t want cigarettes or the side effects they bring. Who wants cancer, or rotten gums, or clogged arteries, or birth defects? The answer is nobody. The British government recognized that and acted on the will of the people. It wasn’t the other way around where the people bent under the will of the government. In contrast to America, how often do we see legislation being passed that is in the will of the people? It’s not very often we see anything passed at all because of political gridlock, but when congress does happen to push something through, its often controversial at best. This shows that Congress does not acknowledge the voice of the American people as the deciding factor of their legislation.


Cigarettes have traditionally always gone after the younger generation. Take a character like the Marlboro man for example, kids have seen the macho persona he creates and want to replicate it for themselves. The packaging is colorful and the ad’s show that smoking is cool and adult. So how has the English government responded? They too have targeted the younger generation in their anti-smoking ads. Just take the examples of side effects they decide to show on the cartons. For young men they show impotence and the stripping of masculinity. Or they show a leg that has had a major surgery from a clogged artery so they can’t kick a soccer ball anymore. They target what the young men care about and show how smoking can take it away. And for the young women they show how smoking can cause fertility problems, tooth decay, skin problems, and other side effects that diminish their beauty. By the strategic design and development of their ads, the English government has shown that they care about the health and happiness of younger generation in England.


The idea really is a simple one. But the struggle comes from having the bravery, concern, smarts, and strength to implement it. This is a huge victory for the health of the British people and the government who supports them. The contrast to American politics is astounding and I hope in the coming years we see more change in America. More bravery in the politics, more concern for the people, and more hope for the future.

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