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Getting personal over all that poisoning

EDITORIAL: The shills of Big Tobacco are a legitimate target for anger.

MP Marama Fox had scope for withering reproach at a toxic industry in her televised debate with Dr Axel Gietz, who was here to emphasise the trademark entitlements in the face of the Government’s plans to introduce tougher plain packaging requirements.

She was doing fine until she fell into a trap of getting indulgently personal.

She called called him a peddler of death; one who profits from the misery of others.

That wasn’t the trap. It was personal, yes, but not indefensibly so. Anybody up for denying that he does?

No, the trap was upscaling things, perhaps because it felt so righteously pleasing to keep going. She called Gietz a corporate executioner and trotted out a Nazi comparison to cast him as akin to Hitler’s propagandist Joseph Goebbels, — who was also a German doctor, see?

How many people would have heard that and thought, immediately, of Godwin’s Law — that the longer a discussion goes on, the greater the risk some clod will bring out a Hitler/Nazi comparison. The implication is that generally his is where things have deteriorated to the point where sensible people should tune out.

As it happens, Mike Godwin didn’t take the view that there are no valid lessons to be drawn from understanding Nazi methodology. If anything his intent was more protective; that careless comparisons debase legitimate ones.

Was Fox’s comparison legitimate? What matters more is that it was so very unhelpful to her cause, allowing Gietz to adopt an air of aggrieved dignity and turning what should be a debate on law and morality into an inquiry into manners.

His message was essentially that the industry’s right to make a legal buck demands huge compensation if, after so many years of deceit on its part and indolence on ours, society truly commits itself to put the brakes on all that death and disease.

Which is fatuous nonsense. Every country has the sovereign right to protect the health of its people. The industry cannot plausibly present itself as an honest player, surprised and disappointed to discover, only now, that its product is pure poison that does unspeakable harm. And then contend that, even so, its business rights are somehow no less sanctified than human life.

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