Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 8 - January 2012
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Australia mandates plain packaging for tobacco products

Although tobacco multinationals have vowed to challenge the new rules, Australia, following Royal Assent on December 1, will become the first country to mandate plain and standardized packaging of cigarettes and other tobacco products.  The land down under will be the first country to implement this guideline from the 2005 World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

As of December 1, 2012, all tobacco products, including cigars and smokeless tobacco, will have to be sold under new standards.  The Australian law bans logos and distinctive fonts on packaging as well as on the tobacco products themselves.  It contains provisions about the uniformity of the shape, the colour, the finish, the texture and the rigidity of the pack, for its inner and outer surface, when the pack is closed or open, and also on the way the pack can be opened.  The law also stipulates that the packaging cannot produce a noise or a scent and cannot be readily transformed or modified after retail sale.  

While the law seriously diminishes the appeal that tobacco packaging can have, it appears legislators do not expect a permanent shortage of gimmicks from the tobacco industry. Indeed, there is a provision that says: “To further the objects of this Act, the regulations may prescribe additional requirements in relation to (a) the retail packaging of tobacco products, and (b) the appearance of tobacco products.”

The objects of the Act are, notably, “to improve public health by (i) discouraging people from taking up smoking, or using tobacco products; (ii) encouraging people to give up smoking, and to stop using tobacco products; (iii) discouraging people who have given up smoking, or who have stopped using tobacco products, from relapsing; and (iv) reducing peoples’ exposure to smoke from tobacco products.”

Despite unanimous support in Parliament, the tobacco industry has fought plain packaging every step of the way and on December 1, launched legal action against the government arguing the legislation is unconstitutional and violates intellectual property rights. Scott McIntyre, spokesman for British American Tobacco Australia, a company that holds 46 % of the Australian market, told the press:  “We’re a legal company with legal products selling to adults who know the risks of smoking.  We’re taking this to the high court because we believe the removal of our valuable intellectual property is unconstitutional.”

By Pierre Croteau