Burning Desire: the Seduction of Smoking, TV review: A compelling investigation into Big Tobacco's secrets and lies

 

Journalist Peter Taylor has been making documentaries about cigs, aka cancer sticks aka "the most lethal consumer product on the planet", for almost as long as we've known that smoking kills.

Since his documentaries Dying for a Fag (1975) and The Habit the Government Can't Break (1985) aired on television, the tobacco industry has entered a new phase – or at least that's what they'd like us to think. Kingsley Wheaton, the disarmingly open representative of British American Tobacco who was interviewed at length in the two-part Burning Desire: the Seduction of Smoking (BBC2), said they only want to help: "We are indeed the problem. That's no reason for us not to be part of the solution?"

You can't blame Taylor for being sceptical about this. He's been dealing with the tobacco industry's barefaced lies for decades – and he'd got the archive clips to prove it. He argued that the "harm reduction" tobacco companies are now engaging in, such as training shopkeepers to ask for ID, isn't proof that they are taking corporate responsibility seriously. It's just the latest marketing exercise designed to divert attention from what might be truly effective: namely plain packaging.

Plan packaging is not plain at all, but features grisly, graphic health warnings where the branding once was. Taylor travelled to Australia to see this new measure in action and it appeared to be working. Outdoorsy Aussie teens consider nothing as daggy as a smoking habit, but this cultural shift was not accomplished without a fight.

After plain packaging legislation was introduced in 2011, the industry's covert fightback tactics included "astro-turfing"(falsely presenting an industry-funded campaign as a grass-roots movement) and various specious arguments: that it would be ineffective, that it would damage the profits of local shopkeepers, and that it would lead to an increase in bootlegged cigarettes.

Taylor's depiction of this Manichaean war between (evil) Big Tobacco and (good) anti-smoking campaigners was compelling, but there was one interested party that doesn't quite fit his schema; the smokers themselves. We now know smokers usually start when they're young and gullible and that smoking disproportionately blights the poor, but that didn't fully explain how cigarettes continue to seduce so many. Despite – or perhaps because of – his immersion all things tobacco, Taylor seemed at a loss to explain it.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea