Earlier this year the Australian federal government unveiled draft legislation to introduce plain packaging laws for cigarettes. Health minister Nicola Roxon was unequivocal in her determination to put the final nail in the coffin of the tobacco industry.
Showing off the new compulsory olive green packaging with vivid images of clogged arteries, cancerous gums and gangrene-infected feet, the minister declared: “We are going to ensure that in Australia there are no remaining avenues for tobacco companies to market and promote their products, particularly to young people. Gone are the days when people can pretend that cigarettes are glamorous.”
I have never smoked, have never had any desire to smoke and nothing frustrates me more than walking down the street and breathing in the secondhand smoke of the person puffing away in front of me, but this latest legislative push does cause me to wonder about the haphazard approach that federal policy takes to the health of its citizens.
It’s more than haphazard, actually; it’s hypocritical. Witness the deceptive and fallacious “safe sex” campaign that is sold to young people via various well designed and sexy governmental websites and videos. The current, official, safe sex website tagline is, “STIs are spreading fast, always use a condom”. This is accompanied by an attractive, naked young couple embracing.
The message is all about condoms stopping everything from HIV to chlamydia to gonorrhoea. The site contains interactive games and activities to get across the condom message. It even ran a national competition to design a “condom tin” to make carrying condoms “as normal as carrying your mobile phone”. The problem is that the condom is not dealing with the issue, it is just skirting around it. And the issue, which no government in the 21st century would be game enough to speak about, is sexual promiscuity.
In 2005 the government banned terms such as “light”, “mild” and “extra mild” on tobacco packaging as it gave the false impression that some cigarettes were less harmful than others.
Yet here we are, in 2011, still telling young people that it is fine to toy with diseases such a HIV and Syphilis so long as they use a thin rubber sheath. There was a major TV ad campaign run last year in which the entertaining and simplistic message was, “Anyone can get herpes” (anyone who is having promiscuous sex, that is). Before that there was the highly visible campaign promoting the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil which was given out free by the Australian Government to any females aged 12 to 26.
The aspect that was not highly discussed in the popular media was that cervical cancer comes about as a result of the human papillomavirus which is a sexually transmitted disease. So, instead of speaking to 12-year-olds about the value of who they are and what sex is, we inject them with a vaccine.
In these campaigns, we see something very different to what goes on in the war against tobacco.
The government is closing down all avenues left for the promotion and sale of tobacco products, yet in the “fight” against deadly sexually transmitted infections the best they can say is, wear a condom and get an injection. What they are not saying is that a sexually promiscuous lifestyle is fraught with the risk of disease and heartache.
What is needed in the campaign is an injection of truth. The safe sex message is supposed to be all about information. Okay, how about this information: women who use the pill for four years or longer prior to their first full term pregnancy have a 52 per cent higher risk of cancer than those not on the pill. That sort of risk is seemingly acceptable, yet last year Toyota recalled 26,000 cars because 0.3 per cent of them experienced a slow brake fluid leak.
What about the fact that girls who are sexually active are more than three times likely to be depressed as girls who are abstinent prior to marriage? Shouldn’t we make it clear that teenage boys who are sexually active are more than twice as likely to struggle with depression and are more than eight times likely to attempt suicide?
Haven’t young people the right to know that those who are sexually active prior to marriage have a significantly increased risk of divorce? For a man who marries as a virgin, his chance of divorce is 63 per cent lower than that of a non-virgin. For girls, it is 76 per cent lower when they marry as virgins.
What young person informed of all these risks would not think twice before experimenting with sex? What responsible authority would not want to persuade adolescents, with the same fervour as they are putting into anti-smoking campaigns, not to start along that path?
Sadly, general Western society has fallen into the pit of relativism so we are impotent to stand up and actually say that promiscuous sex is not glamorous, that it is better to wait until marriage to be sexually active because there is a far higher chance of happiness on every level and a genuinely decreased risk of a diseased body and diseased emotions. After all, there is no condom for the heart.
Bernard Toutounji is an Australian writer and speaker with a background in theology. He writes a regular column called Foolish Wisdom (www.foolishwisdom.com) which focuses on issues of anthropology, morality and truth.