Is the Law an Ass?

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble… “the law is an ass—an idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.” [1]

It seems Mr. Bumble’s wish that the law may be opened up by experience is not too far off-or is it? The Australian High Court’s ratio decidendi that the inclusion of colorful logos, images, and brand designs on cigarette packaging is no longer allowed has been welcomed by many in the medical, educational and legal fraternity, and rightly so, because as the argument goes, the wrapping of the product is what seduces the user into the addiction in the first place. Moreover, it’s time those big tobacco companies, and their disgraceful profits gained on the backs of the suffering of millions who die horrible slow, painful cancerous deaths got their comeuppance. It has been going on for just too long.

The Australian High Court has ruled cigarette manufacturers must use olive-colored packaging for their products. The cigarette packets, as they are affectionately called by their users, will be wreathed in graphic images of sick and dying people, along with cancerous tumors on the throat and mouths, and bodies emaciated and eaten away as a result of lighting up a cigarette many times over. At last all those who have suffered, or lost a loved one through this repulsive addictive habit will have been vindicated, and may be able to find some solace in the court’s ruling.

The argument is premised on the idea that making the wrapping as unattractive as possible will discourage and deter those who are using tobacco as a crutch in their lives, and through fear of death and suffering prevent anyone else from ever starting. It’s the classic modification argument, behavioristic and deterministic in its very essence. But will it work? I’m not a great believer in any form of determinism. There’s the smaller matter of a greater  concept called free will, and leaving aside someone forcing an infant to smoke from a very young age (which is abuse), at some point a choice will be made to light up one of those “ vehicles for nicotine addiction”.

The question becomes whether one has the will or not to stop smoking upon learning about the risks involved. I did, after 16 years of smoking upwards of 40 cigarettes a day. It took 3 months, a few sessions of hypnotherapy, and an inward determination to kick a habit which, when I started I had not been educated in anyway about the consequences-oh yes the 60s and its decadence, and then all those Bogey and Bacall movies and the chain smoking-how cool was that! But it was more a case of a lack of education about smoking and its effects which seduced me-it was a socially cool thing to do-and then there was the rush and addiction which followed; but I was after some years able to quit. In the end I did it cold turkey, so to speak-I just willed it. I fought it like I wanted to win-and I substituted it for walking, then running, then learning to swim. I didn’t overeat or become a chocoholic, alcoholic, sexahoilc, or any other kind of holic; I just become fitter and happier. My friend still smokes. He buys packets which already have gruesome pictures of the diseased, dying and dead on them-but he simply takes them out of the packet, and places them into his new, gold  cigarette case, with its platinum skull and cross embossed on the lid. He grins, looks at me and says “Churchill smoke and drank, and lived into his nineties” So bring on the olive packets with their obsessive portraits of death and dying; but lets not stop there-what about all those sugar products? Obesity is on the rise; let’s have all our candy wrapped in black wrappers with graphic pictures of rolls of open liposuction, and veins swelled to bursting point with hardened yellow cholesterol. And lets not forget the cookies and snacks either-Lays, Pringles and the rest of them; out with their brightly colored, happy snacky packaging-lets go for a brown wrapper,  and vivid pictures of open heart surgery, and inserted stents buckling under the pressure of slow, viscous blood unable to pump through over gorged arteries. What about alcohol? I’d suggest a heavy green can and bottle for all types including beer, spirits and wines of every conceivable variety and vintage. The label should show a seriously cirrhosised liver, with a simple message saying “wishing you all the best” My point, although not very subtle here is that we cannot legislate to change personal behavior. People are fickled creatures, and will do as they please whether we like it or not. I think Mr. Bumble is right in this instance-the law is an ass-where will this folly end?


[1] CHARLES DICKENS, Oliver Twist, chapter 51, p. 489 (1970)

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