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: