Monday, February 11, 2008

Imperial object to cannabis health warnings on Rizla

The ongoing and rather ridiculous saga of Rizla (or rather Imperial Tobacco, which owns the brand) cashing in on its central role in the multi-million pound cannabis paraphernalia market whilst its PR people pathetically try to disassociate the company from cannabis use, has taken a new and unfortunate turn.

The mental health charity Rethink, which has for a long time been a welcome and rational (if often lonely) voice in the cannabis debate, has called for cannabis health warnings to be put on Rizla packets. Unsurprisingly Rizla have not responded well, claiming that:

"We don't endorse the illegal use of cannabis using any of our products"

That may well be so, but they are of course perfectly happy to make bags of money from the illegal use of cannabis using their products. They would no doubt deny it, but many of Rizla 's products, the king size papers and paper rolls specifically, are used almost exclusively for cannabis consumption and not, as I recall Rizla laughably claiming in the past, for truck drivers who like to have a 'longer roll up'. Given this reality, having appropriate health warnings on the packets , for both tobacco and cannabis, seems eminently sensible.

Rethink, as part of this call, and its new cannabis health eduction campaign: Educating Reefer, had mocked up some Rizla packets with the warning 'Cannabis can destroy your mental health'. For the record the campaign materials all seem very sensible but I'm not completely sure young people will get the 'educating reefer' pun, or that the wording of the Rizla warning is ideal. But anyway, The Rizla packet mock-ups featured on the website and some of their publicity material for the new campaign, and I saw them when they were also shown in a slide at the (non-public) ACMD cannabis classification hearings last week. Unfortunately, as Rethink informed the ACMD meeting, the website has had to be re jigged and the printed materials withheld from distribution because Imperial's legal people have got all touchy about it.

Now I really don't like tobacco companies. They have a long and reprehensible history of putting profit before any form concern for ethics or public health, from lying about lung cancer through to fighting any form of regulation with their enormous PR and lobbying machines. They have, to some extent, been brought to heal in recent years with the advertising and public smoking bans in much of the West, although they are now directing the generally unpleasant energies to aggressive market expansion in the developing world where controls are less vigorous, there are billions of non-smokers to target, and governments more 'flexible'. Vile (yes you, if you're reading this).

In the UK Rizla occupies an odd and rather anomalous place in smoking and public health policy. Because they are not selling the drugs with which their products are invariably used, many of the restrictions and controls we associate with tobacco (let alone cannabis) are not deployed. This loop hole means that not only can they brush off suggestions for cannabis health warnings, but they are not required to even have tobacco warnings like the ones seen on cigarettes and rolling tobacco. More worryingly perhaps, Rizla can apparently advertise anywhere they want, and they do - unsurprisingly for unprincipled profiteers – aggressively, to youth markets: football game hoardings, ads in youth oriented magazines (often with drug culture allusions), 'Rizla lounges' at music festivals , a website full of video games and mobile downloads, and so on. Who do they think they are kidding? Imperial Tobacco vs Rethink. You tell me who the bad guy is, then tell me who has the best lawyers.

If I had an image of the Rethink Rizla mock-up I'd post it here and wait for the legal chill to arrive. Sadly I don't have the image (do send one, if you happen to have it to hand), so instead here's an image from the satirical website the DailyMash, at least in the spirit of the Rethink campaign:


Pete Guither said...

Not sure I agree with you on this one. If you want warnings on cannabis, legalize it and put the warnings on the cannabis (whether it's packages of loose cannabis, or pre-rolled).

If you want to warn people about undercooking hot dogs, put the label on the hot dog package, not the hot dog buns. (do you have hot dogs over there?)

If you're going after the rolling papers, then it seems the next unwieldy step is to put a warning on every pipe, every roach clip, every bong, every single-hitter, etc., etc. I notice that you don't mention the lack of a tobacco warning on tobacco pipes...

Steve R said...

I take your point, and appreciate the ambiguity regards other paraphenalia,like pipes etc, but I think theres a difference with papers being disposable and sold in the same way and place to tobacco products. Im clearer about the marketing - I think the same restrictions should apply to marketing papers as it does the tobacco. Otherwise you have a situation like we have now, of advertising/marketing smoking by proxy.

Derek said...

It's an interesting idea for sure and it got the headlines. I agree it's pretty obvious that Rizla are making loads of money from people rolling joints, but they've made it quite clear to law reform groups over the years that they have no intention of ever admitting it.

What I hope might come of this is an acceptance that we need warnings on cannabis related products - and indeed, on packets of cannabis.

Now the issue of paraphernalia is a bit of a touchy subject. The sale of bongs and things has long been a grey area and something the prohibition crew have been keen to get banned totally for ages.

Putting up warnings in shops that sell such items would, of course, be to openly admit that such items are being sold for using cannabis. Plastering cannabis warnings all over Risla papers would mean accepting that every sweet shop in the land sells cannabis paraphernalia, the cat would be well and truly out of the bag.

So RETHINK has hit a bit of a brick wall with this idea, as long as cannabis remains illegal, I can't see it getting its warnings.

But it's certainly something for cannabis activists groups to consider supporting.

Steve R said...

The cat is already out of the bag if you think about the grow shops covered in close-up bud posters. No ones under any illusions what is going on there. If bong shops can have spliff posters and drug culture references everywhere - they can surely have health information too - and should be required to. For law makers it presents an unsolvable dilemma as case law demonstrates that attempts to ban paraphernalia (with a very few exceptions)are doomed.

Inevitably, trying to introduce harm reduction initiatives within a harm maximizing legal framework is bound to create these sorts of policy contradications/ironies. requiring health warnings for illicit drugs on licit products used with those drugs is just one of the 'issues' the policy as it stands must tolerate. Only the decriminalisation of use would address this really.

The most obvious harm reduction measures, needle exchanges, are attempting to reduce harms largely created by prohibition - high risk practices (injecting/sharing), of high risk drugs (dirty street drugs) in high risk environments (unsupervised non clinical settings).

Aneerudha said...

I hate you guys! this is the shit i have to come across when i'm searching the internet for cannibus related paraphernalia?!