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They have been replaced by a dreary, uniform, green/brown, colour accompanied by a raft of anti-smoking messages and photographs.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

    Comment number 25.

    21. Pogo
    A ludicrous idea. If I were a counterfieter I'd be rubbing my hands in glee.
    You haven't read past the headline, have you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I wonder how many people in the late eightes,smoked Death cigarettes.Simple plain black box,with a Skull and Crossbones,on the cover and filter.Explict health warning on the box,that left no doubt to the risks."Come on baby light your pyre"tagline,or the lighter brand "Slow Death".Bet they sold hand over fist.People will still smoke,because they like it,whatever the Goverments say...

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    What annoys me is the comment that 15000 dead smokers cost the country A$30bill. Rubbish. They are either 6 feet under or have gone up in smoke! They would cost a lot more if they were still alive. We taxpayers will soon find our taxes going up to compensate for the loss of revenue. If smokers and drinkers want to carry on killing themselves, I say leave them alone.
    PS I am an ex 40 a day man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Donald Tashkin, a UCLA researcher compared 1,200 patients with lung, head and neck cancers to a matched group with no cancer. Even the heaviest marijuana smokers had no increased risk of cancer, and even had somewhat lower risk than non-smokers.
    —Tashkin D. Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study. American Thoracic Society International Conference. May 23, 2006.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    A ludicrous idea. If I were a counterfieter I'd be rubbing my hands in glee. I'm slightly surprised that the tobacco companies haven't taken legal action for the destruction of the value of their branding and copyright.

    I'm a life-long non-smoker by the way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    6Some Lingering Fog

    Only the weak and uneducated continue to smoke.
    Have you evidence of your claim, or is it just plain bigotry?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Good. Another step in the right direction. Fed up hearing this tax argument though. Smokers would spend the spare money elsewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    It's another step on the road to a characterless and homogenized society ... Australia the world capital of collective thought ... "I never thought of thinking for myself at all" ... so the Nanny-State steps in!
    I do appreciate the impact that smoking has on healthcare costs.
    Nevertheless, haven't you noticed, some of the most interesting people in life are smokers?
    I'm Australian, a non smoker!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Excellent. Well done Australia. Time for the UK to follow. And also UK TV programme makers to cut out smoking scenes, especially those where smoking is supposed to act as a 'calming' or 'relaxing' moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I am not entirely sure they have thought this one through.

    Putting grotesque images on cigarette packs will only serve to make them cool in the eyes of most teenagers.

    I am all for trying to stop kids smoking, but you need to understand the way a teenager thinks. It is not about the brand, it is about peer pressure and rebellion.

    I think a bit more lateral thinking is required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I remember when I was a kid adults bought fags then put them in fancy cigarette boxes. Maybe a marketing opportunity here for an enterprising UK manufacturer?

    That aside, the Australian govt must be hoping smoking continues as normal as it probably can't afford a big drop in tax revenues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Good. Step by step, we are gradually de-normalising smoking. I hope that within the next generation, smoking tobacco will be seen as socially unacceptable as taking cocaine; and within the generation after that, it will be banned wordwide - with the tobacco fields ripped up and re-planted with crops which are actually useful to humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    And unemployment goes up, up. And tax revenue goes down, down. And the goverment says we need to put up taxes and cut spending.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Smokers being targeted yet again. Either leave it as it is now, or just make smoking illegal full stop! At the end of the day if people want to smoke, they will do it regardless of the packaging. I am getting tired of the tireless campaign against smokers! At the end of the day, its suppose to be a free world and free choice! Just like eating fatty food if one wishes to do so!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    a bunch of sceptics/cynics so far - the research is strong, people decrying this as unlikely to work are probably those who believe that they are unaffected by advertising - (why do you think companies invest billions every decade in that?)

    I hope the UK follows suit. my children lost their mum to lung cancer, lets try EVERYTHING to prevent new smokers in our youth population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    When I gave up smoking in 1969 I had been smoking for about 5 years and had started at school. It was something everyone did and the only comment I ever got from my Grandmother was that smoking stunts your growth. However present day smokers will only give up if THEY want to. If this move stops 10% from starting that is good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Finally common sense prevails, now do the same for all other drugs and see how much better the world will be!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Im still seeing kids smoking, despite the warnings, threats, gruesome images, these are the next generation of smokers and i doubt that any change in packaging will make any difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Is this plain stupid?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Only the weak and uneducated continue to smoke.


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