Culture

John Oliver Takes On Big Tobacco; Applauds Australia’s Plain Packaging Laws

"Since this law was implemented, total consumption of tobacco and cigarettes in Australia fell to record lows -- and nightmares about eyeballs have risen to record highs."

When it returned to screens last week, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight picked up where it left off, dealing with its limitations as a weekly show by taking aim not at daily news, but at powerful institutions, structural inequalities and major events that haven’t received the coverage Oliver’s team thinks they deserve. That an 18-minute monologue on a difficult issue can go viral every week flies in the face of everything we thought we knew about the internet. But it does go viral every week, and with good reason.

In last night’s episode, John Oliver took on big tobacco: “An aging product that’s decreasing in popularity and yet somehow, it just can’t stop making money. It’s basically the agricultural equivalent of U2.”

He began by discussing the proven effects that marketing has on tobacco consumption around the world, and the “legal hell” the big tobacco industry unleashes on countries that try to limit it. Like in Australia, where we replaced tobacco branding on packaging with notoriously horrifying images, “such as the toe tag on the corpse, the cancerous mouth, the nightmarish eyeball or the diseased lung,” Oliver lists. “I’m pretty sure I would find a healthy lung disgusting, but that thing does look like you’re trying to breathe through baked ziti.”

The plain packaging laws were unquestionably successful; cigarette consumption in Australia fell to record laws, and the tobacco companies were forced to pay the government’s cost in a series of epic lawsuits they brought forward.

But then the international tobacco industry got involved.