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They have been replaced by a dreary, uniform, green/brown, colour accompanied by a raft of anti-smoking messages and photographs.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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  • Comment number 105.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Smokers deserve what they get.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Australia seems to lead the field in weird laws (mandatory bike helmets, for instance), but it may provide a useful litmus test for the world. However, it's still astounding that a supposedly health concerned government trumpets such a half-arsed measure but is happy to allow its citizens to engage in a highly dangerous practice - and make revenue from it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Ah, but will the retailers know whose brand is hiding inside those plain packets? They have to order them from the manufacturers after all. I suspect that a whispered request for a favourite brand will result in customer satisfaction after all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    To Kyle Johnson, Its not just about You and Your choice to smoke. Smoking causes a huge public annoyance and a considerable health risk to people that choose not to smoke. Smokers are extremely selfish to impose their disgusting habbit on others. Smoking should be banned in all public places, both indoors and outdoors, with huge fines for breaches.

    Id like to see al smoking banned immediately

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    I suspect that no amount of advertising and bright packaging will make one iota's difference to the sales of tobacco, how do i know this? Well currently Marijuana is not only not advertised anywhere, and IS illegal, yet its usage is just as widespread as cigarette smoking is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    I was lucky to be living in Australia when giving up smoking. One of the easier places in the world to give up. More Australians are giving up at a faster rate than anywhere else, making it easier for people like me who found it hard.
    Years ago, when they introduced giant health warning labels, cigarette sellers provided stickers to cover them up, and antique cigarette cases became very popular.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    It would be a bit illogical to bring this measure to the UK as cigarettes are already concealed behind shutters. Another thing I found odd is that if those images were on a DVD case they would quickly be removed by standards authorities. How is OK to have grotesque images on one item but not on another. The image is designed to cause distress: distress to children. Go figure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Knowing what they know now, If any smoker could go back to just before they lit their first cigarette and have that choice again, how many would still choose to become smokers? This is about trying to stop NEW smokers starting. Anything is worth a punt to stop children starting to smoke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Here we go again....... It may be ok for Australia, but here in the UK we have more pressing issues to be dealt with. Anyway if they try to ban smoking where are they going to get their tax revenue from?

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Mrs B - There is no sound body of research that show plain packaging will make one iota of difference. There are enough restrictions in law to stop them buying tobacco, it just needs to be better enforced. If you use the same logic, then plain packaging needs to be applied to alcohol, fatty foods and flash motor cars. Do we really want to live in such a deary, state-regulated country?

  • Comment number 94.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 93.

    This is a great idea, hopefully it will be a success and be introduced in the UK soon too. It is one way to potentially decrease demand for cigarettes that has literally no downside - people who want them can still get them in the usual way from the usual outlets, but there is a reduced lure for potential smokers to start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    @78.What Mandate

    I don`t smoke but i don`t force my opinions on others. If they wish to smoke (or drink) then that is their choice. As you say, everything in moderation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Re 24 - Dove - You clearly do not understand the difference between liking and addiction. The reason it is difficult to stop is because tobacco contains addictive compounds that interact with neuroreceptors that make you feel good. The joke is you would feel good if you didn't start smoking in the first place, but now have to pay for a drug just to feel normal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    When will we get the "Brand Variant 20, 20/20 World Cup Cricket Competition?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    I don't see the Australian government rushing to place images of the consequences of drunkenness on all alcohol containers?

    In this respect are the greater number of significant incidents of injury and death from drunken behaviour /DWI.

    Or is it more a case of the state trying to flex its muscles over one specific lifestyle choice?

    (I am a non-smoker and dislike cigarettes).

  • Comment number 88.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 87.

    Many people die in car accidents each year. Should we force car manufacturers to paint a mangled body on each car they sell? And only allow grey cars?

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    This is great news, not least because Australians are some of the nicest people in the world but, nevertheless, they need to be shown clearly and simply that smoking is bad for you.


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