If the Australian Liberal Senator David Leyonhjel ever needs a new job, he might consider writing social-realist novels. This Antipodean Zola has just penned a wonderful parable about the interactions between ‘little people’ and a state that ignores both them and common sense – and indeed the fateful consequences.
The subject? Yep, it’s the plain packaging of nicotine products in Oz: how the policy has failed in its objectives, encouraged smuggling, irritated shoppers and retailers – and even alienated vapers. But, while supplying the well-known statistics, Leyonhjelm has managed to humanise the issues.
Not only does he follow ‘Amanda’ – a Winfield Blue smoker, paying Aus$27 a pack – through the anger that leads her to buy smuggled Asian cigarettes. He also gets into the mind of ‘Richard’, a health department wonk who refuses to admit that the country’s assault on tobacco is now backfiring.
The truth, as Leyonhjelm make clear, is that Australia has done all it can to reduce smoking. Rates which were declining before plain packaging have only budged at all with the imposition of punitive taxation. This and the social victimisation (even of vapers) are now criminalising smokers and encouraging a black market trade from Asia – which offers ease of choice at a third of the price. Meanwhile, the crims are making 1000 per cent profit and – never mind a reasonable levy – the government is seeing zero revenue from the sales.
However, it’s the writer’s deft touches that we like best in this piece: the gas station attendant muttering under his breath, the health researcher stuttering as she tries to reason with her boss. His fable has the makings of great tragedy. The chief being that it’s all too real.