Ending Political Tobacco Donations May Not Be So Easy

As the federal election campaign moves along, news comes today that Kevin Rudd intends to reform party political donations, and ban such from tobacco companies should he win the September 7th poll.

“Tobacco companies will be frozen out if Labor is re-elected, with Kevin Rudd pledging to completely end their involvement in the political process, and to phase out any investment in cigarette firms by public sector super funds.”

“The move is designed to end big tobacco’s influence and to wedge Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, whose party has not ruled out accepting donations from cigarette makers.”

“The ALP stopped taking tobacco industry support in 2004 but the Coalition continues to accept donations.”

While personally I am undecided as to whether actively preventing tobacco companies from making political donations is a fair thing to do – (after all, being a democracy, everyone should have the right to donate as they see fit) – but given the massive cost burden smoking and related illnesses places on our health system, the argument for doing so has a lot of merit.

If such a ban comes about, we should remember that tobacco companies get around bans all the time – so any ban needs to be watertight.

How do they get around the bans? Very sneakily – and here is an example from Australia’s past.

In 1995, tobacco advertising in sport was banned in Australia – existing advertising contracts were allowed to run their course, but new contracts were not permitted to be initiated.

In motorsport, we saw Phillip Morris – through its popular ‘Peter Jackson’ brand – actively sponsoring teams between 1986 and 1995. See below the Peter Jackson Falcon of Glenn Seton from the 1995 season:

Phillip Morris wanted to continue sponsorship after the introduction of the advertising ban, and managed to find a way to do it. Observe the ‘Pack Leader’ Falcon of Alan Jones from the 1996 season:

Eerily similar, isn’t it?

It might have said ‘Pack Leader’ on the car, but after many seasons with the same or similar liveries on the cars, people still subconsciously saw ‘Peter Jackson’.

Even though it didn’t actually say ‘Peter Jackson’.

Not a tobacco brand, so nothing to see here, right?

In a delicious piece of irony, come the Bathurst 1000 that year – the biggest annual motorsport television audience in the nation – the lead ‘Pack Leader’ Falcon caught fire while ‘leading the pack’:

If we’re going to ban tobacco donations to political parties, all well and good – but lets make sure we close all the potential loop holes.

Because frankly, they still want to be leaders of the pack.