Australia smokers given plain packs

 
An example of what cigarette packets in Australia may look like Grim health warnings like this are replacing the branding on cigarette packets in Australia

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Australia has become the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.

From now, all tobacco company logos and colours will be banned from packets.

They have been replaced by a dreary, uniform, green/brown, colour accompanied by a raft of anti-smoking messages and photographs.

The only concession to the tobacco companies is their name and the name of the brand variant in small print at the bottom of the box.

"This is the last gasp of a dying industry," declared Australia's Health Minister Tanya Plibersek.

Anne Jones of the anti-smoking group Ash (Action on Smoking and Health) agrees.

"Plain packaging has taken the personality away from the pack", she says.

"Once you take away all the colour coding and imagery and everything is standardised with massive health warnings, you really do de-glamorise the product."

Cigarette packets were practically the last platform for tobacco companies to advertise themselves.

Commercials on Australian television and radio were banned in 1976. Newspapers followed in 1989.

Targets set

Tobacco sponsorship of sport and cultural events was prohibited in 1992.

That left the packets themselves, which became a target for the current Labor government.

The government's efforts were led by then-Health Minister Nicola Roxon whose own father, Jack, died from a smoking-related illness when she was 10.

Start Quote

Plain packaging is here to stay in Australia. We now plan to go after the ingredients contained in cigarettes”

End Quote Anne Jones of Ash

The government argued that with 15,000 smokers dying each year at a cost to society of AU$30bn (£19bn) it had a duty to act.

It set the target of reducing smoking levels from 16% of the population in 2007, to less than 10% by 2018.

In May 2011, Cancer Council Australia released a review of the evidence surrounding the introduction of plain packaging. The review suggested that packaging plays an important part in encouraging young people to try cigarettes.

That was followed by a telling video, released by anti-smoking campaigners, showing children discussing existing cigarette packets.

One boy says the red on one packet reminds him of his favourite car, a girl admires the pink on another packet, while another boy talks about the "heavenly" colours on his box.

The combined messages about the efficacy of logos and colours in selling cigarettes, helped prompt the government to begin its legislative push to introduce plain packaging.

Not surprisingly, the tobacco industry resisted.

A consortium of major companies, including Phillip Morris, Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco (BAT) came together to plan a counter punch.

That included an extensive media campaign to try to persuade the public and government of the shortcomings of plain packaging.

Cigarettes on display Tobacco companies say removing the branding from cigarettes will not stop people smoking

BAT's spokesman, Scott McIntyre, says: "Plain packaging has always been misleading and won't stop smoking because branded cigarettes will be smuggled in and because tobacco companies will have to respond to that by cutting prices to stay competitive."

Despite those arguments, last August Australia's High Court ruled in favour of the government.

It threw out technical arguments by the tobacco companies that the government was trying to "acquire" their intellectual property rights by removing logos.

"Plain packaging is a game changer," says Anne Jones, a veteran of anti-smoking campaigns.

"It means that you can take on big tobacco and win."

It's known that Britain, France, Norway, India and New Zealand have been among those following the Australian court case closely, to see if there are any lessons for similar plain packaging measures in their countries.

Rare legal set back

But Scott McIntyre of BAT says it is not that straightforward, arguing that the Australian government only won because of the peculiarities of Australian constitutional law.

But there is no doubt that tobacco companies have suffered a rare legal set back, although there could still be further action by them at the World Trade Organization.

"We don't fear that," says Anne Jones of Ash.

"Plain packaging is here to stay in Australia. We now plan to go after the ingredients contained in cigarettes."

Anti-smoking lobbyists like Anne Jones know that packaging changes alone wont significantly curb smoking, especially among established smokers.

Price, availability, information campaigns and health messages play an equally important role.

But cigarette packets will no longer be mini, mobile advertising boards and, for those working to reduce smoking levels, plain packaging is an important stage in the shift to a smoking-free society.

 

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  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 345.

    I am a smoker, plain packets are explicit, I have been a party to many a conversation over a beer about the consequences of smoking. Plain packaging does nothing for the existing smoker except taking longer to purchase as the shop assistant struggles to work out the difference between brands. We will give up when we are ready. Advertising restrictions will not speed this process.

  • rate this
    +15

    Comment number 188.

    I dislike smoking, my dad died of lung cancer after starting smoking in the army in ww2. But it's not like we are immortal. Everyone will die of something eventually. Total state control over people's lives is the end of the path here. Totally miserable Orwellesk states telling everyone how to live every second of every day, while they do whatever they like.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 70.

    Last Sept when in England the tobacco kiosk staff had great difficulty finding a pack of popular small cigars.
    The reluctant opening of the enforced shutters an inch at a time didn't help me point them out. Even when shown what the pack looked like didn't help them.
    Obviously I didn't give up and got them, but considered the extra time spent to be an excellent deterrent for the Govt to enforce!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 67.

    from simple observation, I suspect smoking in the UK is increasing as the hard times bite. I always found it a good way of supressing my appetite. I gave up smoking over 40 years ago by the way. Why? Simple I wanted something else more.

  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 60.

    This'll be an interesting experiment in the influence of branding and advertising on us all.

    I suspect that the results will reveal just how manipulated we are, even though we'd like to think otherwise - note some of the comments here.

    If branding/advertising has no effect, why do the Tobacco Barons spend billions on it and fighting to keep it?

 

Comments 5 of 16

 

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