Australians are stuck in the middle of a tussle between the tobacco industry and the government, which is seeking to mandate plain (unbranded) cigarette packaging. The tobacco manufacturers cannot appeal to the sympathy of the public in opposing these measures, so they’re appealing instead to the growing anxiety that Australian society is becoming over-regulated, or a “nanny state.” Australia doesn’t have a bill of rights, which means existing civil liberties always appear to be under threat whenever new regulations are proposed. (Wrote a Sydney Morning Herald columnist recently: “Ours was a history of extending freedom, of resisting and repelling the enforcement of conformity. Now, we stand by and witness the curtailment of the many for the protection of the few.”)
While 2011 Newspoll telephone research shows that more than half of Australians are in favor of plain packaging for cigarettes, positioning this as another example of our eroding civil liberties strikes a nerve. “More and more, the government is telling us what we should and shouldn’t do,” notes the campaign’s website. The TV spot shows a severe woman labeled “nanny” who declares, “I make the rules around here!” A voice argues that he’s over 18 and that “it’s legal,” but is warned to “Do as you’re told!” The campaign may well gain support for the opposition, even if the tobacco industry is clearly more concerned with keeping its brands than with the liberties of the Australian people.