Nanny State

Plain and/or Terrifying Packaging Considered for Junk Food in New Zealand (and Australia)


Credit: McDonalds

Kiwis (and Aussies!) are getting tubby (or at least their public health officials are growing increasingly concerned about obesity). An advisory panel of food science, nutrition, and manufacturing experts are recommending that New Zealand and Australia consider trying to slow the growth of thier collective muffin tops by packaging junk food the same way many countries now treat cigarettes—with plain white wrappers or logos covered up by gruesome warning labels about the potential consequences of consumption. 

In New Zealand, Otago University professor of marketing Janet Hoek said tobacco use there had halved since the introduction of policies to restrict the way it was marketed.

She called on the NZ Government to do the same for junk food, telling the New Zealand Herald "it makes sense to examine the potential these policies could have in reducing consumption of foods associated with obesity".

In February, Queensland [Australia] Health Minister Lawrence Springborg told The Courier-Mail he was "anti-nanny state", but in relation to food regulation "there are some things where government cannot dismiss stepping in, and this is one of those".

Credit: HHS

Backers say scary labels on soda and other food blamed for the nation's expanding waistline would be no different than slapping those warnings on cigarettes. But a move toward grisly tobacco labels was blocked in the U.S. after courts repeatedly ruled that the mandatory images of cancerous lungs and cadavers violated free speech protections. While the legal landscape is not identical in New Zealand, expect a similar battle to ensue. 

(UPDATE: Edited to reflect the fact that this is a joint Aussie/Kiwi phenomenon.)

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  1. Simple solution: put pictures of Jimbo with his shirt off on every food package, billboard, screen, bus ad, and condom package in the country. People will stop eating, having sex, or even leaving the house, and the island will be completely depopulated within 30 years.

    No more obesity epidemic.

    1. Say, is that Obama in the anti-smoking ad?

  2. What, people don’t know that fattening food is fattening? Or that not exercising at all is fattening? I find that rather hard to believe.

    1. A significant portion of the population wouldn’t know how to breathe if it weren’t hardwired into their bodies.

  3. Hey, we could carry this to the logical conclusion: Cars could only be painted with grisly pictures of accidents, lightbulbs wrapped in images of electrocution victims, politicians could be tattooed with “May tell Lies”.

    1. On their face? Because if it’s on their face, I’m in.

    2. May?

      1. Well, I suppose they have to tell the truth sometimes. Like “I want $100,000 to vote for that bill.”

    3. “Poor Impulse Control” for the fatties.

  4. I know! I know! Let’s replace the checkboxes on ballots with graphic pictures of dead children killed by drones! You can choose between the dead, brown, Arab kid or the dead, white, Persian kid! Yay democracy!

  5. How to chop down a tree and stop a mad dog with a walking stick: The bizarre ‘lifehacks’ tips found on cigarette packets 100 years ago

    ‘How To’ series of cards produced by Ogdens and Gallaher’s in the 1910s
    Gave customers tips on emergency situations and everyday concerns…..s-ago.html

    There’s some cool labels.

    1. Probably more useful. I’m even more dubious about the efficacy of current cigarette labels than I am about FAT FOOD RUN! labels. I mean, like smoking isn’t universally known to be unhealthy?

      1. I dunno. I mean, I didn’t know that smoking was unhealthy until the government told me. The hacking in the shower until I threw up, chronic bronchitis and sinusitis, and constant wheezing didn’t tip me off. Nope. I needed government to tell me.

        1. There is a fair case that the Tobacco industry flagrantly lied about the health effects of tobacco for decades.

          They knew the epidemiology and continued to promote cigarettes as ‘healthy’.

          It wasn’t until the Surgeon General’s report in 1964 that the general public got the full statistics.

          TBS, anyone who continued to smoke (or worse, started smoking) after 1964 bears full responsibility for their decision.

          1. I hear you. And the disclosures were partially mandated by litigation, I believe. But that’s back in the 1960s. Today? I don’t buy the necessity.

          2. What do you think their punishment should have been for their decades of fraud on the subject?

            1. They should have been sued into bankruptcy.

              1. Yes, exactly. Fraud is rather easily addressed, and the evidence of that didn’t become clear right away. But when it did, they’d have suffered massive litigation.

                Note that most gigantic class actions that could destroy a company are often stopped by government intervention.

                1. “Note that most gigantic class actions that could destroy a company are often stopped by government intervention.”

                  You beat me to it. I’m pretty sure the same government that now milks the cigarette industry because they are evil probably intervened to save them back then. Too big to fail and all.

                  1. The insanity of it is positively surreal.

          3. So before 1964 smokers didn’t feel the bad effects of smoking? Come on. That’s lame. You shouldn’t need a government warning to know that inhaling smoke is not healthy. I mean, don’t people like die from smoke inhalation and stuff?

            1. To the extent there was active fraud going on I think that’s a rare case of actual improper victim blaming.

              Sure, people should have known it was bad for you, but if the companies were engaging in fraud they should be punished nonetheless. We don’t tell victims of robbery ‘hey, you should have been stronger or quicker on the draw’, we punish the robber.

              1. Robbery is not a voluntary transaction, while purchasing tobacco is. That’s a piss-poor analogy.

                Smokers don’t need to be told that it’s unhealthy. They know because their bodies tell them.

                1. The analogy is to the fraud, not the sale.

                  1. Robbery is an act of force, not fraud.

                    Fraud is when you use deception to lure someone into a voluntary transaction that they would not have entered into had they not been misinformed.

                    Even then I’m not so sure that this fits with tobacco, being that people still start the habit knowing full well what the dangers are.

                    Do you know why people smoke? Because they enjoy it. I didn’t quit because of warning labels or taxes. I quit because I was tired of spending every morning doubled-over in the shower coughing until I puked.

                    1. We don’t say to a person who went down a bad street and got robbed “hey, you should have known full well you can’t go down that street without getting robbed.” We go after the robber, because robbery is wrong.

                      Likewise when it comes to someone who engaged with a fraudulent seller we shouldn’t say “hey, you should have known that guy was lying.”

                      As a practical matter, like if you were giving advice to a friend you might say these things. But our laws shouldn’t do that.

                    2. Likewise when it comes to someone who engaged with a fraudulent seller we shouldn’t say “hey, you should have known that guy was lying.”

                      You’ve never reported a case of fraud, have you. Because most of the time that’s exactly what they’ll tell you.

                    3. And that’s not because of the laws. It’s because the people who enforce the laws are assholes.

            2. I suspect that people have had a pretty good idea for a while…

            3. Yeah, people knew for centuries. Not sure where these people are getting their info from.

      2. Well, it is now. But there really is a pretty sordid history of cig companies trying to promote their product as healthy (or less unhealthy than it was).

        This isn’t to say government has any role in that apart prosecuting fraud or that any particular government intervention isn’t counterproductive or a violation of someone’s rights.

  6. I have to wonder, did the ‘plain’ or covered packaging idea start with social conservative efforts on pornography? I remember as a kid there was a convenience store with a magazine rack, and at the top were what I now understand to be Hustlers and stuff, but they had brown or black packaging that hid everything but the magazine title and sultry, pouting eyes.

    1. What about alcohol and brown-bagging?

      1. Another good example. When did that start? It’s amazing when you think about it. We can’t have you walking out of the store with that liquor visibly showing, think of the children!

  7. A couple of points:
    1. While Janet Hoek is based at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, the conference she’s at and the panel she’s on is all in Australia. She has recommended similar things for New Zealand, but I’ve not seen her getting Ministerial backing in the same way here.
    2. That said, she is getting a very nice set of NZ government grants to look at ways of stigmatising smokers to discourage smoking.
    3. New Zealand does not have plain packaging in tobacco. Australia has been moving that way. New Zealand’s activist Associate Minister of Health and key Maori Party coalition partner, Tariana Turia, absolutely hates smoking. So she’s gung-ho to have it here. But our Prime Minister, John Key, isn’t an idiot. He put the brakes on everything at least until all the Australian court challenges get resolved. So while Janet Hoek is free to call for all kinds of rubbish here in New Zealand, like in the bit the Courier-Mail cited here (which the Courier-Mail ripped off a month-old NZ Herald piece), she’s not going to get very far with it under the current government. She’ll keep getting the grants from our Ministry of Health, and it’s disappointing that coalition politics have stopped National from properly gutting the quangos there hiding, but I don’t see it happening here anytime soon.

    1. Hey, I learned a word today. Thanks, Mr. Crampton.

  8. I once had such high hopes for liberty in New Zealand. Sigh. Oh well. Has anyone proposed using a poster of Gandalf, smoking his weed-pipe despite a tracheotomy hole?

  9. Another problem: While there’s broad agreement on what tobacco is (it’s pretty easy to identify), there is not on what “junk food” is. Even proponents of such a measure will argue about it and formulate different criteria.

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