Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 6 - July 2011
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Plain olive-brown packages for Australia

All tobacco product packaging will have the same matte finish and dull olive hue; the same opening and shape; no logo or brand images; standard-size lettering (it’s been speculated to be Lucida Sans), style and colour; no ridging or embossing on the carton; and no pattern on the foil. This is how the Australian government sees the packaging of tobacco after July 1, 2012. 

On April 7, Health Minister Nicola Roxon unveiled a preliminary draft of a plain packaging bill, along with a consultation paper containing examples of the new generic cigarette packaging. Following the public consultation, which ended on June 6, the Minister will table a bill in due form before Parliament in Canberra.

The Labor Government’s new anti-tobacco initiative had already been announced by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the end of April 2010. Rudd’s surprise resignation two months later and his replacement by Julia Gillard, followed by a much anticipated general election in which the economy was the key campaign issue, could have sunk the plain packaging proposal. This was all the more true as the Labor Government scraped through the election with a very narrow margin at the polls on August 21, 2010.

While forewarning opposition amendments to Labor’s proposed legislation, Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition, said on June 1 that his Coalition would accept the move to introduce plain packaging for all tobacco products.

An association of tobacco product retailers conducted a campaign in August 2010 on Australian TV against the uniform, neutral packaging requirements, but its efforts had the unintended effect of increasing popular support for the idea, according to Cancer Council Victoria. What the public may not have known was that the ads had been paid for by tobacco manufacturers, who had used small retailers as fronts, while waiting for the right to contest the future law before the courts.

Law professor Mark Davison, a leading Australian expert on intellectual property and trademarks, has taken a public stand in favour of uniform and neutral tobacco packaging. Sociologist Simon Chapman, who teaches at the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, also recommended that the government move forward with the plan. Australia ratified the WHO Framework on Tobacco Control in 2004 when Abbott, the leader of the opposition, was Minister of Health.

The Australian plan also proposes covering 75% of the front and 90% of the back of cigarette packages with an illustrated health warning. No other legislation in the world has ever gone so far on any of these points to de-normalize tobacco.

Tobacco industry threatens to slash prices

The tobacco industry has threatened to flood the Australian market with half-priced cigarettes if it is forced to remove branding from its packages.

British American Tobacco (BAT) representatives have told local media that the industry will unveil a series of radio, print and billboard ads in its ongoing fight against the plain packaging laws.

“Could cigarettes halve over time? In the long-term, potentially yes,” said David Crow, Chief of BAT Australia. “Basically, more people will smoke and more kids will smoke,” adding companies would have to drastically cut prices because no-name cigarettes and tobacco would be more attractive.

But Health Minister Nicola Roxon said these threats are proof of how desperate the industry is to fight the changes. “Big tobacco is fighting to protect their profits, but we are fighting to protect lives,” she said. “We are not going to back away from this fight. We have won these fights in the past and we will win again.

BAT Australia has also declared it will launch a court challenge against the proposed plain packaging laws.

By Pierre Croteau and Joe Strizzi

New Zealand likely to follow Australian lead

 

In April, Associate Health Minister Tarian Turia said New Zealand will likely follow Australia and require plain packaging for tobacco products. The government had committed to making the country smoke-free by 2025 and officials are talking to Australian counterparts on alignment and are expected to report back to Cabinet by June 30.