Social Icons

Friday, 2 November 2012

Dangerous Pro-Smoking Smartphones

The arrogance of the tobacco control industry is stunning and it shines through magnificently in this piece in the Conversation (the favoured op-ed for prohibitionists down under) called "No more cigarette advertising? Never mind, there’s an app for that."

Co-authored by The Root of All Evil's minion Becky Freeman, this short article -- that required three people to write a paltry 628 words between them -- complains about smartphone applications that let users decorate their screens with images of cigarette brand logos.  Since tobacco companies are no longer able to put their logos and shiny trade marks on a packet of fags in Australia, or indeed on anything these days, Mrs Freeman et al are worried that the iPhone has become the next dangerous weapon wielded by the ever-clever marketing executives in tobacco companies:
Public health officials and governments have never been able to keep up with determined and inspired cigarette advertising executives.
This bold statement feigning helplessness is certainly untrue.  The WHO, Public Health zealots and vapid politicians the world over have been busier than ever in closing any so-called advertising loopholes that the Big Bad Tobacco companies have insidiously exploited to ensnare unsuspecting seven-year-olds, including but not limited to tiny letters on a cigarette paper that read "ESC."  So something must be done.
Many countries which have enacted tobacco advertising bans state that they also include all forms of Internet-based advertising. But, there is very little evidence on whether or how well these sorts of provisions are actually being enforced. Australia’s recently enacted ban of online tobacco advertising has yet to be tested.
Given the nature of the Internet, the ability for users to surf via proxies that easily bypass any state-controlled censorship measures and blacklists, it is nigh impossible to regulate the content that appears on the web.  How do you stop people from visiting an American web site that has a gorgeous and temptation-laden iconic image of a packet of Marlboro Reds on display?  How do you stop ordinary smartphone users from downloading or sharing smartphone applications over peer-to-peer file sharing networks?  How best can you can control what you do not want people to see in the digital age?

Equally important, how do you define "advertising"?

Because the anti-smoker True Believers have legislated that any kind of trade mark or logo is de facto advertising. To them, this must mean that anything that is capable of displaying a wicked cigarette brand logo is a de facto advertising medium that must be controlled in order to save billions of lives from the "tobacco epidemic." And who should be the ones in control? Yep, that's right: Public Health nutjobs.
Research on internet content regulation has failed to address the global nature of the online world, so international collaboration on internet regulation is imperative. The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is an ideal mechanism to exchange analysis and information on emerging technologies and best practices for online tobacco advertising bans.
Well that's a nice plug for the FCTC.  In fact, it occurs to me that this article by Freeman et al is nothing more than advertising their hate campaign to like-minded prohibitionist zealots. For they also write: "Indeed, app stores can also be a fantastic resource for health promoting activities."

I like to imagine that Becky Freeman and Simon Chapman come up with these ideas whilst sitting in their office at Sydney University, drinking cheap Oyster Bay wine and musing how clever they all are that they alone can save the world from itself. The all important save the world routine in order to garner more funds for your research.  I suppose that compared to Chapman's record-breaking 55-page Curriculum Vitae, Mrs Freeman has a bit more work to do to catch up.  Don't forget to add how many Twitter followers you have, Becky.

Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously?
The article makes one very interesting point, though.  If indeed the smartphone applications are not authorised by tobacco companies, then why haven't the tobacco companies "taken any steps to prevent app developers from abusing their trademark?"  It's a good and fair question to ask.

I suspect that the answers to that are likely to be:

A) The companies did not know about them until about a week ago when Twitter was alight with "OMG!!!! There are pro-smoking smartphone apps which will make our children try smoking! Call the POLICE!!!!" tweets;

B) Tobacco companies are taking action against them but nobody bothered to ask them if they were;

C) Nobody considers that legal actions, such as defending against trade mark infringements, take an extraordinary amount of time to resolve. They do not happen overnight.  Nor has anyone asked the tobacco companies how many cases of improper trade mark use and infringement they have already dealt with this year.  I would bet the figure is quite substantial.

Just so we're all clear, particularly for those in Australia, this is advertising:

An example of advertising for your ease of reference
And this is a phone with an image of a cigarette, which is not advertising:

Is this really a pro-smoking picture? If you're Australian, you bet it is! Source:
For an alternate viewpoint on this matter, feel free to check out this article by Annabel Crabb.

I suppose we can take small comfort in the knowledge that Freeman et al have said "There is no suggestion that anyone be prevented from distributing pro-smoking content online [...]," except when you read between the lines of that rhetoric, we see most clearly that the evil machinations of the WHO by dint of the FCTC will do precisely that ... if we let them.