Saturday, November 3, 2012

When Cigarette Ads are not Ads

Cigarette advertising is not advertising...
To the long list of laws which are worth little more than the paper they're written on we can add the tobacco control law passed in 2009.

...when the cigarette company says it isn't.
I thot of this when I noticed the proliferation of these cigarette advertising displays in many stores. I guess that the cigarette makers have forgotten that the law prohibits all advertising. After the law went into effect last year, cigarette ads did come down in many stores - but the tobacco companies found a way to put them back up, by pretending that all they are are cigarette display cases. The people supposed to enforce the health laws apparently operate under the same delusion.

The owner of one of these stores told me that the law prohibited them from displaying the actual cigarette boxes they're selling in view of customers, which presumably is to keep them out of sight of young people. I pointed out that this law hasn't been enforced at all against the street vendors, who also continue selling loose smokes, which is also prohibited, including to children.

"The law is only applied to us," the storeowner said, "the ones who pay taxes." He's correct.

A street vendor sells loose cigarettes, illegaly,
on Plaza San Victorino
This isn't to say that the law's not a good thing. Tobacco advertising has been eliminated from the radio, and, I presume, from television (I don't have one, so can't say for sure). And the prohibition against indoor smoking is mostly respected, at least in Bogotá. The new health warnings on packs are also graphic and dramatic. (However, these new ads-which-are-not-ads do not carry health warnings, since they're not ads.)

But smoking remains epidemic, particularly among young people, who easily buy tobacco, which kills some 22,000 Colombians every year. Tragically, that death rate, which far exceeds the number killed in the country's armed conflict, is likely to increase.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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