15 Aug, 2012 Last updated: 30 Mar, 2015

By Jerril Rechter, VicHealth CEO

Open Letter to big tobacco, first published on The Age online 15 August 2012.

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter

Dear tobacco companies,

You just don’t know when to quit, do you? Remember how cool you were in the first half of the 20th Century? How just about everyone was into you? Well, that was 50 years ago.

I’m writing to tell you that it’s time to give up. You’re not cool, or popular, or even stylish any more. You’re dull, ugly and passé and quite frankly, nobody likes you, not even your own customers. 

You must be feeling a bit worse for wear. You’ve had a few hard decades since your heyday.  First we took away your television, billboard and magazine advertisements. Then we stopped you from selling your deadly wares to children.  

Next, we exposed your dirty secrets and slapped grotesque graphics on your product, so that no smoker could say they didn’t know just how destructive your products are.

Then we started a campaign against your insidious products, advertising on the very mediums we banned you from.  Last year, we even had the nerve to make you so expensive, that 1.2 million of your fans turned their backs on you just three months later. 

So you tried to fight back. You posed as a group of concerned shopkeepers lamenting plain packaging with an absurd multimillion dollar campaign. Once again, you lied to us. And once again, we exposed your deceit.

Today, your shiny wrapping, your oh-so-sophisticated, feminine, cool, macho, quintessentially Aussie, crisp and attractive, clean and fresh, hip, multimillion-dollar focus group packaging is gone.

Your delicate gold and silver labels, posh lettering, and disarming little buzz words like ‘fine’ and ‘classic’ and ‘smooth’ are set to disappear. All that will remain is a sludge-coloured shell plastered with a nasty photograph and a health warning. It’s about time.

And now you have the nerve to expect us to feel sorry for you because you’ve had a hard time. Fat chance!  After all, your products kill half of your customers. In fact, they are responsible for the deaths of 4000 Victorians every single year. Some die from heart disease and stroke. Others die from cancer of the lung, mouth, nose, throat, oesophagus, pancreas, kidney, liver, bladder, bowel, ovary, cervix, bone marrow and stomach.

And many more spend years trapped in the living hell of lung disease. Some even have to endure the sheer horror of limb amputation or gradually losing their sight. Worst of all, you even harm people who don’t want to buy your product, including the most innocent and vulnerable of all – our children.

It’s time for you to take responsibility for the way you’ve swindled us for all these years. It’s time you showed remorse for the way you’ve let us get sick and die. It’s time you stopped pushing the corporate message, pretending nothing you’ve done is wrong.

Plain packaging is your karma. It’s payback for all the damage you’ve caused. And, we believe, it’s the beginning of the end of the golden age of cigarettes.

- Jerril

VicHealth, the world’s first health promotion foundation, was established by the Victorian Parliament as part of the Tobacco Act of 1987. The Act set the standard for international best practice by banning outdoor tobacco advertising and using cigarette taxes to fund anti-smoking campaigns and buy out the tobacco sponsorship of sport and the arts.