In this day and age, it’s no secret that smoking tobacco is bad for you.
In Australia, smoking tobacco products is prohibited in all public indoor spaces and most public outdoor spaces, including the grounds of universities and hospitals and within 10m of outdoor children’s playgrounds.
BUT… It wasn’t always that way.
When did the tobacco lies stop?
It took decades to convince the public that smoking was bad for you. Australia only prohibited smoking ads in December 1989 and stopped subsidies not long after. As you can see in the ads below (that seem pretty bloody ridiculous today) it was heavily promoted as “healthy” for decades.
Enlisting the paid help of doctors, using cute pictures of babies and sourcing reviews from pregnant women were just a few of the ways that the tobacco industry tried, and succeeded, in lying to us about the harmful effects of smoking.
One ad from Winston even tries to flip the detrimental impact of smoking on an unborn fetus on it’s head. It went so far as to suggest it meant an easier birth…
“People are always telling me that smoking causes low birth weight. Talk about a win-win-win! An easy labor, a slim baby, and the Full Flavour of Winston!” “Winston, when you’re smoking for two.”
Climate Change Denial & Fossil Fuel Promotion
Seems almost surreal doesn’t it? That the public could believe smoking was good for you?
However, when you look a bit closer at the propaganda we’re seeing today, it’s not much different.
The denial that Climate Change exists, and the acceptance of warming as “good for us” looks like we’re being lied to in a very similar way.
How Tobacco & Fossil Fuels are similar
These two major polluting industries have a few key things in common.
1. They’re highly addictive
In tobacco, it’s the nicotine that makes smoking so addictive, but with fossil fuels it’s a little more complex. The use of fossil fuels addictive for the companies extracting them, due to the amount of profit that can be made. As consumers, we’re not addicted to fossil fuels themselves, but how dirty energy makes it super easy to live comfortably, getting whatever you want, delivered whenever you want. Regardless of seasonality and for a very low price.
2. They’re a human health hazard
Just like tobacco, fossil fuels present a clear human health hazard. Extracting natural gas, burning black coal and rigging oil have detrimental impacts on our natural ecosystems. These ecosystems provide us with the water, food and shelter we need to survive.
Without healthy ecosystems, we see cases of undernutrition, drowning, heart disease, malaria and much more. The myriad impacts of fossil fuels on human health are outlined in detail in the IPCC Report on Climate Change.
3. They both tried to cover up the science with PR
Both the tobacco and fossil fuel industries are great at “spinning” the narrative. Recently, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) in America found that both industries had even hired the same PR firm!
“From the 1950s onward, the oil and tobacco firms were using not only the same PR firms and same research institutes, but many of the same researchers,” CIEL President Carroll Muffett said in a statement.
“Again and again we found both the PR firms and the researchers worked first for oil, then for tobacco,” he said. “It was a pedigree the tobacco companies recognized and sought out.”
How we see Tobacco vs Fossil Fuels in Australia
Although incredibly similar in their hazardous health impacts, how we treat fossil fuels and smoking tobacco is wildly different.
1. Smokers, the new lepers of society.
If you still smoke in Australia, you probably feel a bit like a leper. Gone are the days where Winnie Blues were always accompanied a cold VB. Nowadays, you’ll be lucky to find a pub that lets you have a smoke and a beer in a nice outdoor beer garden. Most places have designated “smoking areas” and e-cigs have made smoking tobacco even more unappealing. In the cities, loads of bars won’t even let you smoke while you drink and you’ve got to step outside to inhale your chemicals.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Fossil Fuels are not just accepted, they’re almost worshipped as “heroes”. Providing steady employment, with an average salary of around $130k/year, and dominating our export industry, fossil fuels are a huge part of the Australian economy. As so many Aussies rely on this industry for work, they get a little defensive when you try to say anything against it. Trust us, whenever you post something about the detrimental impact of dirty energy companies, you’ll cop an earful from fossil fuel supporters.
2. Smoking is heavily taxed, Fossil Fuels are subsidised
Let’s take a look at the facts shall we?
Fossil Fuel Subsidies: According to research completed by The Australia Institute, in 2020-21, $10.3 billion was pumped into the fossil fuel industry by the Aussie Government. That means that if it were dished out minute by minute, the Australian government was rewarding the dirty energy industry with $19,686 EVERY MINUTE.
Rod Campbell, Research Director at The Australia Institute put it perfectly when said, “Coal, oil and gas companies in Australia give the impression that they are major contributors to the Australian economy, but our research shows that they are major recipients of government funds.”
“The major subsidies are Commonwealth tax breaks that mean the largest users of fossil fuels get a refund worth $7.8 billion on a tax that the rest of the community has to pay.”
Yep, you read that right. Our tax is being used to get fossil fuel companies a better deal on their transport costs. That way, they can export fossil fuels around the world almost tax-free.
Taxes on Smoking Tobacco: On the other end of the spectrum, tobacco provides the government with 2.7% of the total tax revenue in Australia. In 2018-2019, the government made $456,710,000,000 from tobacco taxes. That’s $456.71 billion dollars. Which is around $1.2 billion dollars A DAY, and about $833,000 A MINUTE.
Interestingly enough, only a few decades ago, the tobacco industry was also receiving pretty solid subsidies. According to the Industry Commission, Annual Report 1989−1990, Tobacco was by far the most subsidised agricultural activity in Australia, getting 12x the support that all other agricultural activities did.
To leave this on a positive note, looking at how the tobacco industry has changed, it shouldn’t be too long before the Fossil Fuel industry is held accountable for the detrimental impact it is having on human health.
Who knows? Maybe in ten years we’ll be writing about another new-found “evil” industry and comparing it to Fossil Fuels. I guess we can only hope.