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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Tobacco stain on would-be MP

From the Dom Post.

OPINION: The job of being a tobacco lobbyist is not a respectable one. Big Tobacco kills 5000 New Zealanders a year.

Half its customers die as a result of using the product. Tobacco is an addictive substance that causes untold misery and death throughout the world. Those promoting the interests of Big Tobacco know all this, and yet choose to work for a genuinely evil force.

Astonishingly, the National Party has chosen a 23-year-old tobacco lobbyist as its candidate for the super- safe National seat of Southland. Todd Barclay seems rather conflicted about his eight months as corporate affairs PR for Philip Morris. On the one hand, he says, it was "just a job" and it "doesn't define him".

On the other, he doesn't "condone" smoking and even seems to think he should acknowledge some of its ill- effects. "Everyone has been affected by someone with a long-term illness, so my greatest sympathies go out to them," says the young politician.

This is not just a job, but a job that aids and abets an industry that kills. And this job does define him, because he presumably took it up voluntarily.

At the same time he doesn't "condone" smoking and doesn't smoke himself. Worst of all is his attempt to acknowledge the harm. Long-term illness is one thing, but death is another, and he didn't mention it.

Above all, he says his "greatest sympathies go out" to the victims of the industry he worked for. There is no way that he can square these contradictions or give a moral justification for his activity.

He can't say smokers made the choice to smoke and therefore must take the consequences. Most smokers take up the habit when they are irrational adolescents, typically at age 14 or 15. And even if they took it up after they had reached the age of adulthood and rationality, they soon become addicts. Adult choice might have started the habit, but no adult choice sustains it.

Barclay will of course soon become an MP. A drover's dog would win Southland if it stood for National.

However, there must be questions about Barclay as a future MP.

The people's representatives must have some bare minimum of concern for the health of their community. By working for Big Tobacco, Barclay forfeited the right to be considered that way.

The same goes for another would-be National MP, Chris Bishop, who seeks the nomination for Hutt South. He used to be a tobacco lobbyist too, and apparently thinks he can justify this career choice on libertarian grounds. He can't.

If National has any sense or decency, it will not select Bishop as its candidate for this seat.

One tobacco lobbyist in the National caucus might be an accident. Two begins to make National look like aparty whose anti-tobacco stance is hollow and hypocritical.

National will no doubt argue that Big Tobacco is a legal industry, and so it is. Morally, however, Big Tobacco is indefensible - and so are those who are paid advocates for it.


Armchair Critic said...

From National's perspective it's a curious choice. On the face of it there's little doubt that he'll win the seat. However, the good folk who are inclined to vote National will express their lack of support by finding something to do that doesn't involve voting on 20 September. So a reduced majority is likely. If the opposition parties can raise their profile and increase their share of the party vote by using this lad's meagre work history and total lack of experience then that will translate, indirectly, into more seats in parliament for them. If I recall correctly, the current government commands the slimmest of majorities, and even if all else was going well for the government, this could be a decision that tips them out of office.

robertguyton said...

Indeed, AC.