Doctor and activist


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Category: Media

BUGA UP –  the issues keep resurfacing

19 November 2022

BUGA UP originated in 1979, when its 3 founders were prevented from a regular evening out to re-face tobacco billboards by pouring rain.  As it they sat and waited, they thought about how to publicise their work so that it did not appear as random anti-tobacco graffiti. They wanted a word that would be irreverent and would embody the concept of hitting back against the unhealthy promotions. After some discussion, the word BUGA UP was developed, an acronym for Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions. From that night they signed all the re-faced billboards with BUGA UP.

The major problem at that time was tobacco promotion, which accounted for over half outdoor advertising, with alcohol second. The concept was self-regulatory in that anyone taking up a spray can had to make their own decision about what they wanted to say, i.e. what they were willing to be arrested for. 

A relatively large number of graffitists, especially from the medical fraternity, were inspired by what appeared to be a large campaign and were willing to be arrested for spraying on tobacco billboards. Other activists were concerned about alcohol promotion and some were concerned about sexism in advertising.  A relatively small percentage were willing to be arrested for junk food or drink ads. (There were no ads for gambling at that time).

BUGA UP, however, looked at the whole issue of the regulation of advertising, asking that it not be one-way communication with no input from consumers or regulators as to the content or consequences of the promotions.  The advertisers’ position was that it was their money, they could  say what they liked, as this was ‘freedom of commercial speech’. Note the extra word in the cliche ‘freedom of speech’.

The advertisers set up a farcical ‘Advertising Standards Council’ which had very loose ‘codes of practice’ and an industry dominated judicial system, which took so long to work that the ad campaign was invariably over even if they banned an ad, which very rarely happened as they had the numbers in the kangaroo courts.  One hapless paediatrician was recruited onto one of these committees, had his name used to champion the quality of its membership, and of course was outvoted in every deliberation.  He eventually acknowledged sadly that he had been ‘used’ and he resigned.

But BUGA UP was active, producing a publication, ‘Billboard’, which was sent to all the major players in the advertising industry to emphasise to them that their regulatory systems were recognised as farcical.  BUGA UP invented the ‘Advertising Double Standards Council’ to satirise the ‘Advertising Standards Council’.  Its slogan was ‘If advertising standards are good, double standards are twice as good’.

One of BUGA UP’s members, Peter Vogel, wrote over 400 complaints about many ads. He was labelled a ‘serial complainer’ and they wanted not to respond to his complaints. He insisted that by their own charter they had to. They rejected all 400+!

Eventually there had been so much publicity about advertising regulation that the advertising industry wanted the Trade Practices Commission to re-legitimise its self-regulatory system, presumably as they thought government regulation was possible in the future.  The Fairfax newspapers fronted this action, and it was opposed by ACA, The Australian Consumers’ Association. The advertisers said that their codes and practices were working well.  At this stage Peter Vogel of BUGA UP came out of the woodwork, with his huge file of denied complaints. He had systematically made complaints using every item of the advertisers codes of practice and had a farcical response to every item, which the Commission could judge for itself.

Two academics, Shenagh Barnes and Michael Blakeney  wrote a book called ‘Advertising Regulation’ (Law Book Co 1982) which concluded that the self regulatory system manifestly lacked credibility’. But despite the moral victory, the consequences of the trial were not good. The Trade Practices Tribunal concluded that it was not able to set up a regulatory structure, but could only either approve or reject what was put in front of it, so in the absence of any alternative it approved the self-regulatory system as it might have a bit of benefit over nothing at all. ACA, the Consumers’ organisation, was almost sent bankrupt by the legal fees involved, and overall the Industry had got what it wanted.  A few years later when the issue had faded from the public eye, the Advertising Standards Council faded too.

The original BUGA UP guide, ‘Ad Expo- a self-defence course for children’ from 1983 is still available  online, but of course its ads are now dated. (ww.bugaup.org/publications/Ad_Expo.pdf

But now, as gambling wreaks havoc with families, and childhood obesity skyrockets, the issue of irresponsible advertising is back in the spotlight. Let us hope that there is more success this time, but a lot of work will be needed even to get up the momentum that BUGA UP had in 1983.

Here is an article on sugar and obesity: 

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BUGA UP Nostalgia

16 November 2022

BUGA UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions) was most active fro m 1979-1985, and had a big effect on tobacco and smoking. It was also a high point in the demand for advertising to be responsible for the consequences of its use of its products.

In the end, the advertisers accepted a ban on tobacco to keep the threat of stronger regulation at bay. They cut back on sexism a bit and the movement to regulate them died down. So alcohol, gambling annd junk food ads have survived.

Here is a link to some of the TV programs from that time and a little after.

www.youtube.com/user/BUGAUPTube

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Submission to Inquiry into Online Gambling

11 November 2022

Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

The Internet Problem

The issue of online Gambling is similar to many problems in that online gambling involves an area of activity that is largely beyond the direct control of the Australian Parliaments, or indeed any single Parliament.  The internet was designed to be anarchic, and so it is.

Programs to deal with gambling regulation are thus ineffective, but the limited terms of reference of this inquiry suggests that governments are not thinking in terms of what they can do at a systemic and global level and are turning instead to a focus on the individual.

Need for an Industry focus rather than an Individual Focus

It must be noted that where creating public health problems benefits an Industry, the response must be against that Industry.  Concentrating on individuals while the Industry markets to the world is a very inefficient strategy.  To use a historical example, the Tobacco Industry marketed with ubiquitous ads, sponsorships, product placements and many other techniques, yet wanted medical professionals and school education to be the only techniques used against them, framing the issue as personal choice (and responsibility) and ‘smokers v. non-smokers’ requiring courtesy (and no criticism and restrictions).

This is the situation that the Gambling Industry is in now. They demand to be able to market to the world, but want all harm minimisation programs directed at individuals.  They know that this is a winning strategy for them.

What the Federal Government Can Do

While it is true that the Australian Federal government has no effective jurisdiction over the internet, and does not licence or control the Hotels, Clubs and Casinos with their poker machines, it has control over Australian media advertising laws and also allocates grants to States.  The Federal government could ban all Gambling advertising on electronic media in Australia, and lessen grants to States in proportion to their revenue from Gambling. This would stop the States getting any benefit from gambling revenue, which they rely on quite highly.  Western Australia, which is missing out on Gambling revenue would certainly support this.

The ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship has set a precedent for action on public health issues, and there was censorship of certain opinions that were antithetical to a national COVID strategy, so the idea of a ban on Gambling advertising is not new or radical.  VicHealth also replaced tobacco advertising with ads for healthy lifestyles and anti-Gambling advertising could replace ads for Gambling. The protest group, BUGA UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions) in the 1980s used satire of tobacco advertising to sharpen the focus on the Tobacco Industry’s absurd imagery and callous disregard for the lives of their customers.  They won hearts for their Robin Hood approach to the entrenched power of the Tobacco Industry and set the world standard for action against tobacco, because compared to their actions, everything else became ‘moderate’.  But less recognised than their billboard campaign  was the re-framing of the debate from ‘smokers v non-smokers’ and ‘personal choice’, to a ‘Tobacco Industry campaign to make a profit even though it kills people’.  This reframing in the public mind allowed governments to stand up to the Tobacco Industry and forced political parties to eschew their donations (at least publicly).. 

Gambling Industry Strategy

The Gambling Industry’s ads are very clever, appearing to take the loser’s side to identify with (usually) him and dangle the prospect of a win, though of course this is statistically impossible in the medium term. They are perverting the idea of ‘mateship’ to a group Gambling session with a cheery comparison of who they are backing as they watch sport.  This would be very vulnerable to a satiric response, based on a commiseration as to which mug lost the most and a final comment that ‘gamblers are losers’.

Laissez-faire v. Health

The Federal government is responsible for the health of Australians and with an increasing percentage of health problems being related to lifestyle choices, the government cannot simply ‘leave health to the market’.  ‘The market’ will sell anything that makes money irrespective of whether it has good health outcomes or not, so leaving the national wellbeing to ‘the market’ is a highly flawed strategy as the government in the end picks up the tab for all problems. The Federal government should unashamedly promote sales and practices that are good for health and discourage things that are not.

Encouraging good personal decisions

Any reasonable management textbook will say that the best way to manage things is to have good decisions made at the lowest possible level within the organisation. Yet gambling advertising uses distractions and dreams of riches that are statistically extremely unlikely to encourage people to gamble, and thus not use their money wisely. If the ads said ‘Do not contribute to superannuation’, ‘Do not save’, Do not worry if you do not have enough money to feed your kids’, there would be a huge outcry.  Yet this is the outcome with a large percentage of gambling money received being from people who cannot really afford it.  The social problems created take an immense amount of effort from government and NGO charitable organisations to try to rectify them. Often they cannot.  This problem is entirely created because of bad decisions on gambling made by people who the Gambling Industry has conned.  It is exactly like people taking up smoking. It was portrayed as a bit of harmless pleasure, but when people were hooked, it did them immense harm.  Gambling is the same.

Need for Gambling Research

One the other problems of Gambling is that the research is funded by the industry, so its scope and nature are controlled.  The amount of harm that it does is poorly quantified, so that there is little evidence for those opposing Gambling to use in political debate. The lack of evidence and the lack of debate suits the Gambling Industry fine- they are more than happy to continue and extend the status quo.  Given that the Federal government is a major player in cleaning up the social problems created by the Gambling, it should insist that there be well funded research on the social consequences of Gambling, and the nature of this research should not be determined by the Gambling Industry.  The Gambling Industry in Australia is extremely large by world standards, perhaps the largest in the world apart from little enclaves like Monaco or Macau where the money is retained by the State and the social problems are either ignored or assumed to be manifest elsewhere.  The social indices of distress are very high in Las Vegas.  It might be said that the Gambling Industry in Australia is like the gun lobby in the US; it is almost unchallengeable.  This must change, and the Federal government must initiate the change.

Off-line Gambling

It is interesting that the Clubs lobby is under challenge at a state level.  The origin of this is uncertain.  There has always been a lobby against Gambling, and this may have been helped by the rapid rise in the inflation rate which is straining the family budget, particularly of disadvantaged people, who are the ones most affected by Gambling losses.  It is also no doubt helped by the revelations that the Casinos have happily laundered money for organised crime, by-passing their regulatory systems, and being perceived by organised crime as an easier target than foreign jurisdictions.  The public also notice that the Casino boards were well stacked with ex-politicians, who were presumed to be there to smooth the political pathway of the Casinos in their dealing with regulation or (even) enforcement. It might be noted that despite the huge amounts of money being laundered and the findings that the Casinos were not fit to have licences, their share prices have only suffered modestly, showing that everyone knows that eventually their licence will be restored and it will be ‘business as usual’. The public is also well aware that the charade, ‘’I had no idea what was happening’ from the politically connected people at the top, merely leads to a resignation or two, but there is no penalty on the individuals.  An aboriginal youth can go to gaol for petty theft, but laundering billions for organised crime merely leads a Casino director to a sojourn in the yacht club.  While the major political parties have been very reluctant to upset the Hotel and Club industry, as evidenced by the 20 year delay in introducing smoke-free indoor air legislation, the rise of the Teal candidates threatening once safe seats, has pressured the major political parties to take a more ethical stance, and also  blunted the financial advantage that support  from the pubs and clubs lobby gives to their campaigns. 

Online v. Off-line Gambling

But the final possibility for the pressure on the Clubs and Hotels may have come from the Online Gambling lobby. If it is assumed that people who want to gamble will use what is available, there is a real possibility that the lack of poker machines availability in pubs and clubs may lead to an increase in online Gambling.  Supporters of the pubs and clubs are quick to point out that the clubs are non-profit and spend their monies enlarging their premises and providing facilities in Australia, as well as paying at least some tax to State governments. If there were a change towards online Gambling this money would go overseas.  This overlooks the social context of gambling. Playing a poker machine is quite different  from going online, so there is unlikely to be a direct transfer, even if the online experience is made more similar.

Need for Federal Government Action on all Gambling

The lesson for the Federal government, however, is that Gambling must be discouraged at both the pub and club level, and online at the same time. Both have similarly detrimental financial consequences for the players and punters, though the industries are distinct. From the public’s point of view, it is worrying that the terms of reference of this inquiry neglect that issue of Gambling in pubs, clubs and the TAB, as it suggests that these influences have restricted the terms of reference.  The regulation of the internet is also a wider problem, which usually comes into focus with the issues of inflammatory hate speech, medical disinformation, defamation or an aspect of pornography.  Gambling for money should be in a similar category to these and discussed in a similar context.

Recommendations:

  1. The Federal Government should recognise that the Gambling Industry and its power is the reason that Australia has a worse Gambling problem than almost any other developed country and the the Gambling Industry has a hold on Australian politics as strong as the Gun lobby in the USA, and with a detrimental effect that could be of similar magnitude.
  2. The Federal government should take an unequivocal stand that Gambling is harmful in that it encourages poor financial decision-making which puts a strain on the whole welfare system, Federal, State and NGO.
  3. The Federal government should recognise that all forms of Gambling need to be discouraged, pubs, clubs, TAB, on-course and online and this needs to be an unequivocal campaign, similar to Quit or for the necessity for vaccination.
  4. The campaign against Gambling needs to be in schools and have both a mathematical component as part of statistics, and a more practical part looking at online Gambling, and the social institutions which encourage Gambling.
  5. The campaign against Gambling must involve electronic media advertising bans on TV and all advertising and sponsorship.  It must involve active ads against Gambling as well as merely bans on pro-Gambling ads.  It should use satire and be prolonged.
  6. The control of online Gambling should be seen in the context of minimising the harm of the ubiquitous internet, and research on how to lessen Gambling should be pursued with endeavours to lessen other social harms such as child sexual exploitation, bullying, vaccine disinformation, tobacco and vaping advertising and disinformation, hate speech, video games that promote violence and defamation.
  7. The Federal government should fund Gambling research so that the social consequences can be quantified and rational decisions made about the cost-benefit to society.  Gambling research should not be neglected, limited, financed and controlled by the Gambling Industry as is currently the case.
  8. There must be support for people who have a gambling problem. Such services need to be publicised, and destigmatised, as happened for those with mental illness.  However, individual services must not be a substitute for a more systemic industry-focussed approach.
  9. There needs to be  a national register of addicted gamblers to allow better exclusion from gambling facilities. If this were comprehensive, it could be used to prevent addicts losing money online with a caveat emptor for those who took the bets from registered addicts.  The credit card companies could be recruited not to allow Gambling to such addicts and not to honour Gambling debts incurred by registered addicts.
  10. The Federal government should consider family support for addicted gamblers in the same way that child support is available for at risk families.

About the Author

Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans is medical doctor, who trained in surgery and became a tobacco-control advocate, then an Australian Democrat MLC in the NSW Upper House. He is currently working as a GP.

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Bribing the Governor-General?

4 September 2022

The antics of Scott Morrison were bad enough when he was Prime Minister. Since he left two journos, Simon Benson and Geoff Chambers wrote a book, ‘Plagued- Australia’s 2 Years of Hell’, about how he had 5 ministerial portfolios.

There were quite a lot of questions arising out of this.

It was not illegal, which was presumably obvious.  Who would pass a law saying ‘The Prime Minister shall not secretly give himself Extra Cabinet portfolios’?  It would not occur to anyone that this was possible. 

Also ‘Corruption’ seems to be defined very narrowly in law- someone has to make money, usually personally.  Corrupt process does not seem to count.  When I was in Parliament a whistle-blower, Nola Fraser told me about corruption in SW Sydney Area Health Service.  The first question I asked her was, ‘Do you mean someone was taking money, or do you mean that the processes were corrupt?’  She said, ‘No, its not about money, they are just killing people by pushing complaints sideways. They are supposed to be helping people, but they are doing the opposite’.  So I helped her and we had an inquiry  into SW Sydney AHS. Then ICAC got on the case and had an inquiry that cost more than a million dollars, and said that she had no credibility as she had no evidence of money changing hands.  They wasted a million dollars and trashed her reputation because they used their definition of corruption and did not bother to ask hers.

So probably Morrison is not corrupt either.  The Solicitor-General did not just say briefly that it was legal, he wrote quite a lot saying in essence that was highly undesirable.

One of the journalists, Simon Benson, was the editor of the Daily Telegraph and must have known about this before the election, but chose to reveal it in a book after rather than in a news story before.  In that this would have made a lot of difference to the election and Morrison might have been defeated by even more, it is a decision that frankly bothers me. I knew Simon Benson as the News Ltd journo in the NSW Parliament when I was there. He was a Murdoch man and had nothing but contempt for the cross-bench; an interest in power rather than procedure.

The other aspect is that the Governor-General knew about it and did nothing. In that the 1975 Governor-General was vilified when he sacked Whitlam, it could be argued that Governors- General since will obey their Prime Ministers and not question them. But they are there ‘above politics’ to see that the interest of the Australian people is served, and when the unusual appointments were not announced, the Governor-General should have both known and acted on it. It is strange how little criticism he has had. I wonder if this is because this is being stored up as evidence that we need an elected President rather than a figurehead one when we become a Republic. Those who would  criticise the G-G are mostly Republicans. 

But now The Saturday Paper has a story by Karen Middleton that Morrison gave $18 million to a leadership program that was suggested by the Governor-General, David Hurley. Hurley is an ex-military man.  The military naturally do leadership training and according to two of my nephews who have been in the military do it very well.  Various ex-military types have leadership training as part of elite Management Courses which exist commercially.  But whether leadership should have a large subsidised program seems dubious to me. It sounds like an elite getting even more resources.  Church schools are subsidised and it seems just to be governments paying to increase social inequity. Surely if leaders are going to emerge, they should do so from the rough and tumble of life.  The military, private schools and Management seem more than capable of looking after their own.

So what did Hurley want, how indebted was he to Morrison, and did this have any bearing on his response to Morrison’s dubious activities in personal Kingmaking?          

www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/post/max-opray/2022/08/15/morrisons-secret-resources-portfolio

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A Russian Perspective on Ukraine- (Gregory Clark article below)

25 April 2022

While the brutal tactics of the Russians in Ukraine make horrendous continuing news, significant aspects of the origins of Russia’s Ukraine invasion have been ignored by Western media.  This does not justify the invasion, but one might wonder if the Donbas region in the East could ever have been retained within Ukraine.

It is well known that there is a gradation across the Ukraine from West to East, those in the West favouring Europe about 90%, but those in the East, the Donsek region, has almost 90% keen to merge with Russia.  There was a strong separatist movement in these provinces, with ongoing fighting. The Ukrainian army was not keen to fight other Ukrainians and it was said that neo-Nazi groups were involved in fighting the separatists using very Fascist tactics. 

Historically there had been some strong right wing groups in the Ukraine, and it might be noted that when Germany invaded, troops from Ukraine were recruited and fought with them against the Russians.  At the end of the war, naturally these groups were not seen, but it has been said that the CIA was in touch with them, and that they facilitated the successful storming of the Ukrainian Parliament in the coup in 2014, which led to the Donbas region in the east attempting to secede from Ukraine and Russia seizing Crimea.  It might be noted that Crimea was given to Ukraine by Russia in 1954 when they were both part of the USSR. The transfer was facilitated by Nikita Khrushchev who needed the Ukrainian votes to further his own career, and made little difference while Ukraine was in the USSR.

Fighting continued in the Donbas region which includes the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. The fighting led to the Minsk Agreement in September 2014, but the agreement failed leading to Minsk II in February 2015.  Luhansk and Donetsk were supposed to become autonomous regions, but it has never happened.  Fighting has continued, so Russia’s claim that they are fighting Nazis is not as absurd as it has been painted, at least in those regions.

When the USSR was collapsing the US Secretary of State James Baker promised Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev on 9 February 1990 that NATO would not recruit countries to the East.  However, those countries were fearful of a Russian resurgence and wanted to join NATO.  The USSR collapsed in 1991. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined in 1999 and Russia objected.  Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined in 2004.  Note the marked move of NATO to the East.  Albania and Croatia joined in 2009, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020.  The Balkan countries presumably joined as protection against Serbia, which started the wars as Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1991-1999.  Serbia was a strong Russian ally. 

Prior to invading Ukraine, Russia wanted a guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO, but Ukraine along with Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have expressed membership aspirations.  No one was willing to give a guarantee the Ukraine would not join NATO even as the Russian troops massed for the invasion, though some hoped that Putin was bluffing.

Russia is now the 11th biggest economy in the world, ahead of Spain and Australia at 12th and 13th, so economically it is only a middle power, but having been a superpower with an empire recently, it has weapons far in excess of other middle powers and as it pursues a commodities-led recovery it hankers for its old Empire.

The German Social Democrats, the coalition partners of Angela Merkel, assumed that if Russia were integrated into the European economy by Germany buying their gas there would be no wars.  This has been a major miscalculation. Germany was dependent on Russia for 55% of their gas, this having gone up when then they closed their nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster.  They still get 39% of their gas from Russia and are reluctant to turn it off as it would cause a major recession there.  This is very controversial in Germany at present.  Someone calculated that German purchase of Russian gas can pay for a tank every 20 seconds.

Here is an article by Gregory Clark, who spent 10 years with the Australian Dept. of External Affairs (which was the Foreign Relations Dept.) and resigned in 1965 in protest at Australia going into Vietnam. He went to Tokyo and was the lead correspondent for The Australian in Japan 1969-74 and a Japanese academic. He came back as an advisor to Prime Minister and Cabinet in 1974-76 (the Whitlam era), and returned to Japan after that. 

Western media have failed dismally in reporting the Ukraine war

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The Smoke Screen Recurs.

20 March 2022

An article in the Good Weekend 19 March notes that screening services such as Netflix have a lot of smoking in their movies.

There was a lot of placement of smoking in movies for many years and in the 1920s and 30s there was more smoking in movies than in real life, which was probably not a coincidence.

Steve McQueen smoked in ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ and like Yul Brunner, Humphrey Bogart, Betty Grable, Paul Newman, and John Wayne was in the many Hollywood stars to die of lung cancer. 

In the 1950s and 60s tobacco companies sponsored many TV programs, such as the ‘Jack Benny Show’ (comedy) and ‘Gunsmoke’. Walt Disney, Larry King, Moe Howard (3 Stooges), Larry Hagman (Dallas), Chuck Connors (The Rifleman) and Ed Sullivan were some of the TV stars to die of smoking-caused cancers.  Some musicians to die were Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Duke Ellington, George Harrison and Sammy Davis Jr.

The heath activists managed to get rid of tobacco advertising in Australia in 1976, but sponsorship, which was cheaper than actual advertising and got much more coverage lasted until after 2000. In the US activists drew attention to product placement in movies where brands were displayed or whole characters written to publicise smoking and fund movies.  Product placement by tobacco was banned in Australia in 1992 and in the US in 1998, unless historical figures were known to smoke.  

But now smoking in movies is rising again, and it seems to be worse in streaming services like Netflix.  Smoking does not seem to be increasing yet, but with vaping acting as a new gateway to smoking, the battle ain’t over yet.

From the ashes: Smoking’s curious comeback on the silver screen

Once the epitome of Hollywood glamour, cigarettes were all but snuffed out in films and TV shows by the turn of the millennium. Now they’re making a comeback. Plot-driven or something more sinister?

By Tim Elliott  Good Weekend   March 18, 2022

Smoking has made a furtive, and somewhat puzzling, comeback in recent years, something one US veteran anti-tobacco activist says is not random: “Nothing in Hollywood happens by chance.” 

When news broke, in mid-2021, that the cult turn of the millennium TV series Sex and the City was to return, the world’s entertainment media suffered a brief bout of tachycardia, the kind of hand-flapping hysteria that could reasonably be expected to herald the return of another well-known cult figure. The excitement was understandable. The new series, called And Just Like That, promised contemporary viewers everything that had made the original show so effortlessly watchable; cheeky humour, exceptional shoes and a non-threatening dose of prime-time friendly transgressiveness.

Yet there was one facet of And Just Like That which got special attention: one of the lead characters, Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker), was smoking again. “Why, decades after she quit the habit, would Carrie return to it?” asked W magazine. A headline in New York magazine read: “And Just Like That … Carrie Is Smoking Again.” “Carrie’s smoking again!” the Daily Mail yelped.

Such head-shaking suggested not just disapproval but bewilderment. The common consensus was that, thanks to decades of pressure from anti-tobacco groups, smoking in TV and films had all but disappeared. In fact, smoking has made a furtive, and somewhat puzzling, comeback in recent years. Agent Smith lights up in The Matrix Resurrections; Kate Winslet vapes in Mare of Easttown; and Christina Applegate’s character Jen sparks up in the woman buddy show, Dead to Me. There’s plenty of smoking in the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy and in Orange is the New Black, and also in Modern Family and Law & Order: SVU.

Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw resumed her smoking habit in the latest Sex and the City series, And Just Like That.

The fug that all but envelops The Queen’s Gambit, which is set in the mid-1950s and ’60s in the US, could plausibly be excused: after all, in 1954 a full 45 per cent of Americans smoked, that country’s highest level. (Australia reached its peak – also 45 per cent – in 1960). But smoking is also popping up in contemporary films, and especially those aimed at kids: a 2019 report from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the number of times tobacco use appeared on-screen in PG-13 films jumped 120 per cent between 2010 and 2018.

So what’s going on? “It’s not totally clear, but we’ve got a few ideas,” says Professor Stanton Glantz, a veteran anti-tobacco activist and founder of Smoke Free Media at the University of California, San Francisco, which tracks the incidences of smoking in movies and video. “One thing for sure is, these are not random creative decisions. Nothing in Hollywood happens by chance.”

Cigarettes and movies have been inextricably linked for generations. Ever since the advent of the talkies, tobacco companies have understood the power of film to shape cultural norms. In the 1930s and ’40s, tobacco companies paid Hollywood stars to appear in cigarette ads and smoke on screen. In return, the studios received funding for film advertising. Some actors, including Joan Crawford and Carole Lombard, appeared smoking in posters that promoted both the film and the brand of cigarette.

In the 1950s and ’60s, tobacco companies shifted their focus to television, spending hundreds of millions of dollars sponsoring popular programs such as The Jack Benny Program and Gunsmoke. Steve McQueen smoked in Wanted: Dead or Alive. Peter Gunn smoked. Even the Flintstones smoked. In 1962, the American television network CBS assured tobacco companies that the TV set “is the greatest cigarette vending machine ever devised”.

In the early 1970s, however, regulators in the US and Australia began banning cigarette advertising on TV and radio, prompting the tobacco companies to turn their attention once more to the movies. Product placement became rife, with Big Tobacco paying millions to have its brands on screen.

In 1982, Superman II featured a classic fight scene in which Superman is thrown into a Marlboro truck by General Zod. In 1989, Philip Morris paid $US350,000 ($472,000) to have its Lark brand featured in the James Bond film Licence to Kill.

Some companies were literally throwing cigarettes at actors: in 1984, American Tobacco supplied more than $US5000 worth of cigarettes to the set of Beverly Hills Cop. “I do feel heartened at the increasing number of occasions when I go to a movie and see a pack of cigarettes in the hands of the leading lady,” Hamish Maxwell, then president of Philip Morris, told a marketing meeting in 1983, adding, “We must continue to exploit new opportunities to get cigarettes on screen and into the hands of smokers.”

Such marketing has been phenomenally powerful, not only at creating new smokers but at manipulating reality. “You often hear these days that, ‘Oh everyone smoked in the 1920s and 1930s,’ ” says Glantz. “But it turns out that people back then smoked less than they did 10 years ago. The reason people now think people smoked so much then is that the movies back then had so many people smoking.”

Paying for on-screen product placement was banned in Australia in 1992, and in 1998 in the US. By 2007, according to the CDC, smoking on screen was at an all-time low: virtually the only people you saw puffing away were historical figures whose persona was inseparable from their habit: Winston Churchill, Fidel Castro or King George VI in the 2010 film The King’s Speech, in which he’s frequently depicted lighting up as he struggles with his speech impediment.

But smoking soon rose from the ashes. According to the CDC, tobacco use in top-grossing movies jumped 57 per cent from 2010 to 2018. Meanwhile, in the real world, smoking rates in the US were going in the opposite direction, from 19.3 per cent in 2010 to 13.7 per cent in 2018. The CDC didn’t attempt to explain why there was more smoking in films, but it would be naive to think that Big Tobacco had simply walked away from the movies.

“If you see a pack of Marlboros on screen, someone would have had to approve that,” says Glantz. “It doesn’t get in there by accident. How exactly it gets there, we don’t really know at this stage. There are still product placement companies, but they all deny they work with Big Tobacco. But if you see smoke, there is a fire.” (A spokesman for Philip Morris in Australia said the company does not engage in product placement in movies or on television.)

Streaming services aren’t bound by regulatory agreements, which is how shows like The Umbrella Academy managed to include cigarettes in every scene of its latest season.

Streaming is a big part of the problem, according to Glantz. Every year the tobacco companies must certify to the US Federal Trade Commission that they haven’t paid for their product to be placed in movies, TV shows or video games. But the agreement doesn’t cover streaming content, the enormous quantity of which makes it all but impossible for anti-tobacco groups and regulators to monitor.

“The cynic in me says that tobacco ads have been so curtailed globally that the tobacco industry must have a role in it,” says Becky Freeman, associate professor of public health at the University of Sydney.

“But then, given how many productions are involved and the sheer number of people, it seems unlikely there would be big money changing hands without someone leaking about it.” Freeman believes it’s more likely that streaming services are using smoking “to stand out from the big budget movies, and to appear more ‘indie’.”

Some streaming services are more “indie” than others. Despite a pledge to limit smoking on screen, Netflix remains the worst offender. (According to the Truth Initiative, an American anti-smoking group, scenes involving smoking tripled in the latest season of its superhero series The Umbrella Academy, which managed to include tobacco in every scene.)

The major studios also have policies that aim to restrict the amount of on-screen smoking. The strictest is Disney, which banned it in 2007. Thus its 2021 film, Cruella, which features the ghoulish De Vil without her signature cigarette. But all of the studios – even Disney – make allowances for creative licence and historical accuracy.

Kate Winslet as Detective Sergeant Mare Sheehan vapes in the crime drama, Mare of Easttown.

“Smoking was so widespread in the 20th century that it would be inauthentic not to show it in a drama set in that period,” says novelist and screenwriter John Collee. Collee, whose credits include Master and Commander, Happy Feet and Hotel Mumbai, is writing an adaptation of Trent Dalton’s bestselling book, Boy Swallows Universe, which is set in Brisbane in the early 1980s among working-class criminals and journalists. As it happens, the movie will include a historical figure called Slim Halliday, who was a member of the Brisbane underworld and an enthusiastic smoker. (Spoiler alert: in the film, Halliday dies of lung cancer.)

The problem for groups like the Truth Initiative and Smoke Free Media is that smoking in movies often signifies recklessness, and being reckless is cool.

History aside, smoking holds a strong stylistic appeal in cinema, which, says Collee, uses a “Freudian kind of dream language, where some things signify other things”. In Mad Men, the popular series about hard-living advertising executives in 1960s New York, smoking stands in as moral commentary, a metaphor for lead character Don Draper’s shadowy past and heedless chauvinism.

In the 1999 movie, Fight Club, Brad Pitt’s character, a poisonously disillusioned soap salesman named Tyler Durden, smokes so greedily it’s as if he’s eating the cigarette. “His smoking is like saying, ‘Here is a guy who doesn’t much care for his own survival,’ ” Collee says.

In Mad Men, smoking stands in as moral commentary, a metaphor for lead character Don Draper’s shadowy past and heedless chauvinism.

The problem for groups like the Truth Initiative and Smoke Free Media is that smoking in movies often signifies recklessness, and being reckless is cool. The bottom line, says Collee, who worked as a doctor before becoming a writer, “is that, unlike a public health announcement, a drama is essentially non-didactic. To a certain extent, you have to trust your audience to discriminate between a good thing and a bad thing.”


In the 2012 Judd Apatow film, This is 40, the lead female character, Debbie (played by Leslie Mann), has a sneaky smoking habit, puffing away near the bins out the back of her house. When her teenage daughter Sadie discovers her, Debbie is aghast and promises to give up. Like Debbie, today’s filmmakers have been busted smoking. Like Debbie, they have promised to give up. Like Debbie, their heart’s not in it.

Everyone has different ideas about how to fix the problem. India tried to ban all smoking scenes in Bollywood movies in 2005, but failed thanks in part to opposition from the creative community, which argued that it would curb artistic freedom. Instead, all scenes involving smoking are now accompanied by a caption at the bottom of the screen warning viewers that “Smoking is injurious to health”. In Thailand, meanwhile, the act of smoking and cigarette packs are pixelated.

Stan Glantz has long advocated, unsuccessfully, to have all movies with smoking scenes rated R. But prominent Australian anti-tobacco campaigner Simon Chapman believes this would be a mistake, not only because it’s unfeasible (would a minor character smoking one cigarette trigger an R-rating? What about scenes that depict smoking negatively? And what 15-year-old kid takes notice of movie ratings anyway?), but also because having health advocates dictate the content of movies is a really bad idea. “This kind of approach just seems a bit North Korea to me,” he says.

Some of the most memorable anti-smoking messages have come from within the film industry itself. In 1985, the actor Yul Brynner, who had been a smoker since the age of 12 and was then dying of lung cancer, appeared on Good Morning America, imploring the viewers: “Whatever you, just don’t smoke.”

Some of the smoking scenes in The Queen’s Gambit may not have had quite the effect Big Tobacco was hoping for.

 Then there is the hit series The Queen’s Gambit, in which sassy chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) rises up the chess world while battling booze and drugs. In one scene, Harmon, hitting rock bottom, stumbles around her house, hopelessly hungover, a cigarette dangling from her lips. She heads to the fridge and grabs a beer, then dances around the kitchen to Shocking Blue’s Venus.

As the song hits full stride – “A goddess on a mountain top, was burning like a silver flame” – Harmon twirls, cigarette in hand, smoke in her hair, and promptly pukes in the sink. Not quite the product placement Big Tobacco might have hoped for.

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The Chinese Way

4 January 2022

Everyone want to criticise China as an authoritarian state, but if you stand back and look at how they tackle challenges that we have, there may be lessons to be learned.

There was an interesting show on ABC TV last night hosted by Hamish Macdonald ‘The China Century’, Part 1 of 5.  It looked at the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and their ruthless repression.  But next week it will look at how they have combined capitalism and strong state control.

Competition increase efficiency when it lowers prices, but note in the late stage of ‘laissez faire’ monopolies allow supernormal profits and their political influence puts them above the law.  Sometimes the loss of central control may also mean that a fragmented industry cannot produce state of the art products.  I read some time ago that the US is having a problem producing good fighter planes because the intellectual property is now spread over a number of competing companies, so no one company can be state of the art on all aspects.  A single body controlling the situation would not have this problem.

The other aspect is that the Chinese can write the rules for its industries and not simply assume that whatever makes the most profit in the immediate term is the best place to consume resources.

In Australia, our economy is totally out of whack because the tax concession of negative gearing has meant that everyone has simply invested in real estate as a ‘no brainer’ way of making money. But the rise in prices is in a sense arbitrary.  If a house goes up in price from $100k to a million, it is still the same house.  The difference is that the person who now buys it has $million debt.  The ‘profit’ is someone else’s borrowing.  So at a national level, we have the second highest level of private debt in the world (after Switzerland) and just pay interest to foreign banks.  We also have no money to invest in our productive export industries, or even think about them as real estate is so easy.  We note that developers distort the electoral process and do dodgy deals to get their approvals through, but once it is all done, we wring our hands- nothing can be done. The building stands, and it will all happen again next time.

We watch askance as our regulatory systems fail.  The Banking Royal Commission was initiated by a whistle-blower not the regulator, and nothing much has changed; one banker resignation, no one charged. We saw the Aged Care inquiry, the Casino Inquiry were both whistle-blower initiated as well.  We are up to 4 inquiries into iCare and nothing changes.  We hope that our buildings are OK, as the regulatory system has not been working too well there for about 25 years. 

We note that our rich are getting much richer and our poor poorer, but our government does not want to do much about that.  Hey if you can’t afford a Rapid Antigen Test, you can always wait and see if get sick.  ‘Universal health care’ is a good slogan.

We see our kids getting fatter and more addicted to computer games, but there is not much we can do about that. We are moving to high rise schools as so many were sold off in the 1980s and now there is no space for recreation, and we also saved on sport teachers and made serious exercise optional.

We worry that our electoral system is influenced by fake news, trolls and data analysis companies. We understand that the social media concentrates on putting like people together so they will stay logged in and be available to advertise to. We understand that a shock headline also attracts more interest and controversy, so we are hyper stimulated until we ignore what is important.  Advertising always affected media content towards making people more receptive to the ads and purchasing; social media has now put it on steroids.

The Chinese have taken all this on.  They have put a super tax on rich people and made statements about everyone having a decent life. They have tried to lessen kids times on computers and to increase their exercise. They have taken on social media, and most recently forced a major developer to demolish high rise building because the building permit was illegally obtained.  The developer is a major one, and already in danger of going broke.  Can anyone image this happening in Australia or the US? 

Many problems  in the world are universal, and watching what a truly authoritarian government can do is interesting. We have the contrast of our governments, that seem to want to be as small as possible and not even acknowledge problems, and theirs which seems to testing the limits of power.  We may not want to do it ourselves, but if we ever decide to do anything, it will be helpful to have information on the outcome of the range of possible actions.

Here is an article about Evergrande, the Chinese property developer which is going broke and now had to demolish significant assets.  It was in the SMH, from Bloomberg. 

Next Monday on ABC TV at 8.30pm the second article on China, considering its use of the combination of capitalism and central control.

China’s Evergrande halts trading after ordered to tear down apartments

By Jan Dahinten

January 3, 2022 — 3.29pm

Chinese developer shares tumbled following local media reports that China Evergrande Group has been ordered to tear down apartment blocks in a development in Hainan province. Evergrande halted trading in its shares.

An index of Chinese developer shares slumped 2.8 per cent as of 11.37 a.m. local time, with Sunac China Holdings and Shimao Group Holdings plunging more than 10 per cent. A local government in Hainan told Evergrande to demolish 39 buildings in 10 days because the building permit was illegally obtained, news wire Cailian reported on Saturday.

Evergrande gave no details on the trading suspension other than saying it would make an announcement containing inside information.

The government of Danzhou, a prefecture-level city in the southern Chinese province of Hainan, asked Evergrande to tear down 39 illegal buildings in 10 days, Cailian reported on Sunday, citing a document from the local government.

The report cited the document, which was dated December 30, as saying that the Danzhou government said an illegally obtained permit for the buildings had been revoked so the buildings need to be dismantled.

Evergrande didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment and calls to Danzhou authorities went unanswered on a public holiday in China on Monday.

The company on Friday dialed back payment plans on billions of dollars of overdue wealth management products as its liquidity crisis showed little sign of easing.

Property firms have mounting bills to pay in January and shrinking options to raise necessary funds. The industry will need to find at least $US197 billion ($271 billion) to cover maturing bonds, coupons, trust products and deferred wages to millions of migrant workers, according to Bloomberg calculations and analyst estimates.

Beijing has urged builders like China Evergrande Group to meet payrolls by month-end in order to avoid the risk of social unrest.

Contracted sales for 31 listed developers fell 26 per cent in December from a year earlier, according to Citigroup Inc. analysts. Evergrande’s sales dropped 99 per cent, the analysts wrote in a note dated Sunday.

Bloomberg

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Kerry O’Brien Speaks for Julian Assange

24 December 2021

Kerry O’Brien, who was for a long time host of ABC’s 7.30 Report took the opportunity at the Walkley Awards on 29 November to call for Julian Assange to be released. Hear what he said on the link below.

It seems to me that as an Australia, not living in the USA, Julian Assange was in no way subject to their laws, but it seems the US wants to charge him under their laws, then demand that countries with extradition treaties simply hand him over, effectively making their laws world laws.  This might be OK for most murders and frauds etc, but for political crimes, it is a different matter.

Another significant fact that is deliberately overlooked is that Assange was not the first to release all the Wikileaks information.  He had spent a lot of time with major media journalists and they had their front pages ready to roll.  He was advised that if he released the information, he could be solely liable and they would merely be republishing material that was already public.  So he delayed his release. The major media called him and demanded that he release the material, but he did not. They could not stop their front pages, so put it out before he did.  They may accuse him of bad faith by not taking all the risk himself, but technically in a legal sense, these huge outlets did it before he did.  And the US government, rather than target the major media who actually did it before he did, have given them impunity and are targeting Assange only.  The lack of support from the major media is perhaps because they could be targeted; presumably that is the US government’s message, ‘See what happens to him- you would not like it to happen to you’.

Our government has no commitment to freedom of the press, and simply manipulates the media as much as it can, that is no news to anyone. Assange must be freed.  We can only hope that Labor gets the courage to do something if they are elected.  Don’t hold your breath.

www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-28/kerry-obrien-press-freedom-walkley-awards-julian-assange/11748198

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Morrison’s Character Analysed

11 November 2021

Sean Kelly, the SMH journalist has written a book on Scott Morrison, ‘The Game: A Portrait of Scott Morrison’. 

As an example he analyses Morrison’s first (maiden) speech.  These speeches are always studied as they are when a new politician states their values and objectives, hopefully unsullied by the political pressures that will come later. 

Morrison is from the Kurnell electorate, where Cook first landed.  His first speech was the day after Prime Minister Rudd had apologised to the Aboriginals. Though Morrison says ‘sorry’ to the Aboriginals, he then makes it a regret that Aboriginal children are currently disadvantaged, and says that invasions were the colonial mistake was made by every powerful nation at that time.  So effectively, the word ‘sorry’ is cheapened and the apology not worth much.  As Kelly points out, the first impression is that it is an apology, but later everyone can find something to agree with.  All powerful countries did it, so we are not guilty, and we have much to be proud of etc.  The words are crafted to appear to mean something, but overall there is no policy and ambiguous meaning.

The question now is whether the crafted releases which dominate the news will overcome the silent record of Morrison’s Prime Ministership; stoking fear of Labor, pork-barrelling and not doing much that is useful or permanent.

www.smh.com.au/culture/books/on-policy-there-s-less-to-morrison-s-words-than-meets-the-eye-20211026-p593b3.html

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