by Pippa Starr
17 December 2020
He's come a long way from being that young man from Bowral who pinched cigarettes from his Dad and pedaled cigarettes to other kids at school.
As a well-educated youngster of the private school system, he made it into Uni.
He enjoyed mixing up his cigarette brands of choice and smoke through his earlier days at university, he had a smoke in one hand while in a role as a “Health Education Officer”, until no doubts that was no longer a good look.
This is a brief outline as I see it (my opinion) on a life that seems kind of ironic.
His name is Simon Chapman.
Shortly after flicking the bungers away, although still partial to the odd ciggy he began a career in a self-proclaimed tobacco control role that involved destroying public property by spray painting his tag anywhere he thought was appropriate. He rallied among his mates to do the same as he ceremoniously helped to form a gang in a morgue. The gang/movement would be known as BUGA UP.
Was he the masked paint bomber?
We may never know for sure except for Simon.
One thing is certain though, as his career grew in this space, his publicly displayed passion for a smoke free future for Australia was certainly unparalleled. Sure, there were many that were also advocating for healthier changes around cigarette laws and education around Australia, but Simon found his own irreverent unique style to try and help achieve those changes.
Simon, along with many others were playing a massive game of catch up in Australia after the announcement from Public Health England in 1962 that the future of those smoking was looking grim. Simon along with his gang from "BUGA UP" were graffitiing, paint bombing and destroying tobacco billboards and any tobacco public advertising spaces they could find including on the sides of public transport vehicles in a previously unseen act of vigilantism.
His approach towards attempting to make a smoke free future for Australia has been anything but conventional.
Without a medical degree in hand, he has made his way into nearly every crevice of discussion around reducing smoking in Australia. In Simon’s word’s (paraphrased)
“If they bite back, we know we have hurt them, if not we have to bite harder”.
Some people would agree that an aggressive approach sometimes has to happen to make an impact to cause change, however change doesn’t always happen like that. The same strategy could be said for many in history that has led to wars causing many unnecessary deaths.
In the case of war-ing with big tobacco companies, the popular opinion may agree that is a strategy that is required to lessen the impacts of people starting to smoke. Simon has found his way into the chronicles of the tobacco industry as he loves to stir them up.
It’s fair to say in regard to combustible tobacco, Simon has fought a great fight and has had many victories. Although helping to start the war on Australian tobacco advertising around the late 70’s, it did take till 1994 till all outdoor cigarette advertising was finally banned.
Fast forward a few years to 2003, a new tobacco harm reduction approach arrives in the form of the “eCigarette”. Like a punch-drunk boxer who has been in the ring for too long he would continue his fight, but directed it at this promising new technology that was fast becoming popular. He would seemingly slur out information that seemed self-affirming for him but did not seem to take into consideration that this new technology might just work for some people to help keep them off the cigarettes.
What are ecigs? Click here
By this time Simon had a distinguished career in fighting the good fight against big tobacco in Australia. He and his mates destroyed billboards in a bold statement to finally be heard, so that Australia would start taking action on smoking based on the advice coming from Public Health England, yet suddenly it seems that somehow Public Health England became liars according to Simon, when it came to their advice about eCigarettes.
It appears Simon's interpretation is that Public Health England & The Royal College Of Physicians had a dozen people in a room come up with a figure to pop out of thin air to derive that eCigarettes are 95% safer than combustible cigarettes.
In fact it was a well considered and conservative estimate by the very organisation that can be attributed as the first highly reputable and respected organisation that originally called out the harms of smoking, well before the USA and Australia.
Anyone that gets in Simon's way seems to become the recipient of an air swing (so to speak) or a block as he slurs upon those who embrace the reduced harm alternative known as ecigs.
It’s sad really, because he has done an amazing amount of work to help Australia to get tobacco use rates down, yet the one thing that could potentially offer a knockout punch to Big Tobacco he seemingly attacks.
There are some harm reduction advocates that would dearly like to meet and chat with Simon in good faith, in the Australian way, so they can help solve the smoking issue in Australia together.
However, it seems like his gang roots of “attack and destroy” rather than let’s work this out together seem to be still ingrained in his makeup till this day. While I’m sure meeting with Simon wouldn’t be quite like sitting around a bonfire singing kumbaya while breathing in combustible harms, it should be a dignified conversation that might help to achieve some very positive health outcomes for Australians.
Simon has declined that opportunity on may occasions. To see a man of Simon’s outstanding talent and abilities seemingly go to waste in what appears to be a necessary conversation to have, really is a tragedy.
Over the last 6 years Tobacco use in Australia has comparatively stagnated. In other countries where eCigarettes with nicotine are not only legal but also promoted as safer harm reduction devices, their rates of smoking decline are now well surpassing Australia’s rates of decline.
While some retired 69 year olds may sit on a veranda over a beach reminiscing about their former glories and successes, Simon keeps throwing out slurs that ironically could have the potential to cost the lives of millions of smokers from discovering the benefits of quitting with eCigs. It's like witnessing someone have their head flushed in a toilet bowl and not saying anything, as Simon shamefully did back in the day.
Some have even said that he has now become a bully!
For the record, I think he is misunderstood.
There are people who still respect his rhetoric.
I really wish the best for Simon and hope that he can get over the bad ways of his past and embrace the good he has done moving forward. I really hope that Simon will read this (I know he reads my stuff) and take this as a kind invitation to chat further about how Australia could do better to embrace all methods of Tobacco Harm Reduction in a sensible way.
Simon, now you're 69 you will know we are all better for the human experience when we are on the same team achieving the same goals.
Essentially all those who want the era of combustible smoking to be over are on the same team.
Will you be that stubborn old boy, stuck in your ways or will you dare to come to the table so that,
together we can make smoking history in Australia?
Let's organise some open and frank dialogue with the finest minds and combine experiences so that we all win!
email me: email@example.com
*whilst every effort has been made to be as accurate as possible in this article, I do not proclaim that all/part or thereof information will be 100% precise & correct at time of publication. Opinions expressed are not intended to harm or defame and are only opinions that are intended to promote positive discussion about healthier outcomes for Australians. All details are subject to correction.