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They have been replaced by a dreary, uniform, green/brown, colour accompanied by a raft of anti-smoking messages and photographs.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 425.


    Actually, they haven't found that at all. If they had, these measures would not be being brought in now, and it would be likely that smoking would have already been banned.

    Alcohol costs society far more than tobacco (alcohol is the drug with the highest social cost by a large margin), yet there's still a profit in that for the taxman, even though it's taxed much less...

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    @ pauliem1

    In the year 2011-12
    £9.5 billion in excise and £2.6 billion in VAT was taken by the UK government from smokers alone. From what I can find out I'd guess that smoking related illness costs the NHS around £7 billion a year. So where does the other £5 billion raised from smoking go??

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    Just now
    Does this justify the second hand smoke that is poisoning other people? With your logic, one can beat others as long as he pay a higher tax?
    As a cyclist I have to breathe in plenty of second hand car fumes every day but yet I am not calling for cars to be banned. Its called freedom of choice. Its fact, if you smoke then you pay a lot of tax, more than non-smoker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    408. nisakiman
    Then I should have the choice of paying more for health care and stop others smoking! Wouldn't this make more sense? Btw, please stop using alcohol as example - science has proved that moderate drinking is no harm to your health, but even low level smoking will kill you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    What a daft idea. And as for the waffle about children being given packets to look at and make comments, you could do the same with lots of other legal products that you would not want children to use. Bleach comes in really pretty packets and medicines look just like sweets being just 2 examples, so maybe something should be done about them. Alcohol containers also very attractive to children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    401. Daniel King

    So I take it you don't drive or car, or light bonfires or barbeques.


    I don't. Well, not entirely true: I drive a car about once a year. But I don't do bonfires or BBQ's - I find it a bit childish. Like sucking on a cigarette.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    The first country that has nothing better than to spend its time debating this!!The funniest thing is that with less smokers, the non smokers will pay more taxes. Do they agree?

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    In the 21st Century ,HUMAN LIBERTY DIED!!!

    I,m a non- smoker, i dont drink, I love my family and friends, but my love is not to impose on them restrictions that will control there lives.
    whatever happened to the right of the individual to control there lives?
    to all the people who want smoking
    rather than control,let people make there own minds up!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    403. cyprus-hound-" If you smoke and develop a smoking related disease,then you should pay for your treatment.If you demand the "right" to smoke,then you should accept responsibility..."

    And if you are obese with Type 2 Diabetes? and if you pickle your liver with alcohol? and if you are careless with DIY equipment? and if you wrap yourself round a tree when driving? and if you.....?

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    Just to let all you zealots no that if all us smokers was stop at the same time your tax will go up by about 9p in the pound do you still want us to stop and I love the way these zealots think we all smoke around our kids lol it's not like that at all I have never smoked in front of or near my kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.


    Does this justify the second hand smoke that is poisoning other people

    Do you drive? Use public transport? Use electricity? Have a boiler at home?

    Do you realise that even if you get smoking banned, you'll still be breathing in pretty much the same blend of chemicals due to our "modern" infrastructure?

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    @407 NorcoRider.

    This is not simply about money,it is more about accepting responsibility for the problems that your actions cause.NI and tax on a packet of fags does not come within a country mile of the costs for treating the smoker who gets,say,diabetes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    Why not ban doctors who smoke? Having a healthcare professional that smokes sends the wrong message? Also ban politicians who smoke. They are our leaders, so should set a good example. Next would be CEOs of large companies, footballers and anyone on TV and radio. They are role models.

    There is enough education of the risks. Smoke & Die. Make it illegal or treat it like other products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    No ones stopping Smokers from Smoking.

    If they don't like the nasty pictures show some will power and give up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    407. NorcoRider
    "smokers are already taxed higher than non-smokers everytime they buy a packet."
    Does this justify the second hand smoke that is poisoning other people? With your logic, one can beat others as long as he pay a higher tax?

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    I've never understood why people find it so hard to quit.

    I smoked pretty heavily, about 20 a day, until it started causing acid reflux, so I smoked my last cigarette and haven't smoked since.

    Although hating the thought that I couldn't do something totally in my control probably helped.

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    400.Rodders AKA Dave
    The reason successive Governments have introduced anti-smoking measures is that they found that smoker's cost much more than they contribute.

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    Smokers put far more in to the tax pot than they take out. They subsidise your health care, and without them you would be paying much higher taxes. Anti-smoking is nothing to do with health, and everything to do with puritanism. Plain packs just add to the uglification of the world. They won't stop there. Next will be the demand for plain wine labels with warnings. Joyless zealots all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    Just now
    If you demand the "right" to smoke,then you should accept responsibility for the likely outcome and not expect the taxpayer to pay for your stupidity.
    Poor argument Sir, smokers are already taxed higher than non-smokers everytime they buy a packet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    Smokers are totally in denial of their condition.


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