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Big tobacco takes another big hit

Nick Bryant | 08:58 UK time, Friday, 8 April 2011

Olive green is the latest weapon in the ongoing battle between the Australian government and Big Tobacco.

This week, the Gillard government unveiled aggressive new proposals to eradicate branding on cigarette packaging, and to make it as ugly and plain as possible.

Packets of cigarettes here already carry grotesque pictures of cancer tumours and the carcinogenic effects of nicotine. Now they will be even more prominent, and cover virtually the entire packet - 90% on the back and 75% on the front.

Research has found that dark olive is the most unattractive colour for consumers, and particularly young people.

If the proposals are minted into law, every packet of cigarettes sold in Australia would come in that colour. Brand names would also be a standard size and font, making them as bland and anonymous as possible.

Claiming a global first, the government says these are the most aggressive proposals anywhere in the world.

Certainly, Australia would become the first country to ban logos and brand names. The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, says she wants to take any remaining glamour out of smoking. She also notes that 15,000 Australians continue to die each year from smoking-related illnesses.

Fearing a worldwide knock-on effect, Big Tobacco has opened up its war chest and given $A5m (£m) to the Alliance of Australian Retailers to fight the proposals. They are also calling on smokers, who have already been hit by hefty tax hikes and measures curbing public smoking, to lobby MPs.

The tobacco companies note that they are selling a legal product and that product should carry their own logos and branding. It claims the new proposals infringe international trademark and intellectual property laws.

The government claims it is a killer product and needs to be regulated as heavily as possible.

Big Tobacco is on the wrong side both of history and health trends.

In 1945, 72% of Australian men were smokers and 26% of women. By 2007, those figures had plummeted to 21% and 18%.

As with drinking, Australia has been slipping down the global league tables. In the mid-80s, this country ranked 10th. Now it ranks 41st (Greece tops the table, while Britain ranks 65th).

These proposals are the toughest in the world. Should the Australian government be applauded, or has it gone too far?


  • Comment number 1.

    I don't understand why we don't sanction airstrikes on the tobacco factories. 15,000 Australians getting killed every year. And to think the tobacco companies know this and want to fight back, it's time for war.

  • Comment number 2.

    Short of banning cigarettes all together, the plain olive green packaging with no fancy logo and large graphic warnings is a brilliant idea!

    Its worth pointing out that the Alliance of Australian Retailers only came into being becuase of the plain cigarette packaging proposals and they note on their website that they are funded by, you guessed it, British American Tobacco Australia Limited, Philip Morris Limited and Imperial Tobacco Australia Limited, i.e Big Tobacco!

    I don't smoke, but I noticed the other day one of the major cigarette manufacturers has now included an advertising insert into their packs seeking support for a campaign against widespread outdoor smoking bans. Seems Big Tabacco will try any trick in the book to get support!

  • Comment number 3.

    Gillard and Roxon should be applauded. In fact, these measures don't go far enough. The tobacco industry should be made to pay for every cent of treatment for lung cancer. My mother in law (a non-smoker who was exposed to second hand smoke for decades) has non small cell lung cancer but does not qualify for Iressa (cost $20,000 a year). BAT and Altria should be spending their $5 million on people like her, not on propaganda campaigns.

  • Comment number 4.

    This sounds absolutely wonderful. I wish that more european countries would get behind the anti-smoking campaign. When I was in Spain and Austria I really hated customers being permitted to smoke in some restaurants. Well done Australia!!!

  • Comment number 5.

    I am not sure that this new proposal will make smoking less appealing, it will for sure make buying legal duty paid cigarettes from the conventional retailer less attractive. I am also sure it will give joy to tobacco smugglers and counter fitters. Plain packaging will make it far easier and cheaper to mass produce fake products. Like in Canada these cigarettes will then be sold in plastic bags without any health warning and the perverse outcome will, of course, make tobacco much more accessible to the young people that these regulations seeking to protect.

  • Comment number 6.

    May as well just ban smoking outright, if it's proven to kill people, directly or indirectly.
    What' s the difference between tobacco and say heroin or cocaine, if they all lead to serious health issues?
    And then there's alcohol.... can't that also be linked directly to fatal illnesses? Isn't that potentially a "killer product"? Where or how do you draw the line?
    The tobacco companies have a point; if it's a legal product then they should have the right to brand and copyright it.
    The generic olive packs may help but it may also have a counterproductive effect on a younger TM, if you make it even more 'anti-establishment.'

    Bizarre that in the early days of advertising, even into the sixties, cigarettes were sold as being good for your health.

  • Comment number 7.

    Fantastic, they should also ban smoking within 100m of any place serving food.

  • Comment number 8.

    Maybe they should have pictures on the electric bills to show the effects of coal dust in the air and black lung disease in miners. Gas and oil burning are not the healthiest things for people either. A number of industries create negative impacts on public health but politicians only move when it is in their interest and not necessarily in the interest of public health. The politicians like to regulate the behavior of citizens but seem unwilling to regulate big business and industries on such health matters. And what about alcohol?

  • Comment number 9.

    Which is more of a drain on a nation's finances in terms of healthcare and policing ... tobacco or alcohol?
    Taking tax revenues out of the equation.

  • Comment number 10.

    I strongly dislike tobacco. I have never actively smoked in my life. But I have (passively) smoked a great deal. On the other hand, I strongly oppose against any “totalitarian” type behaviour from any government. I do not like it when a government wants to makes up my mind for me. Objective education on an important subject is fine. In fact, it is a government’s duty. But if a government wants to ban tobacco (or anything else), they should have the courage to put this to vote and comply with the outcome. But then, the flood gates will open. What about alcohol, unhealthy food, unhealthy soft drinks, mobile phones, microwave ovens, pollution (from nuclear power, coal generated electricity, transport, general manufacturing, e.t.a.), or even crossing the road? Many factors of our modern every day life are harmful or dangerous. Where does one stop?

  • Comment number 11.

    Every time you condone government regulation of someone elses freedoms, you condone government regulation of your own. Teach your children not to smoke.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hats off to the Aussie's. There is no known benefit for smoking tobacco. I applaud their bold stand. The Aussie's have it right by putting people and their health first and big business LAST!!!

  • Comment number 13.

    Is every aussie scared of death? I have smoked cigarettes since I was four years old, I don't like Big Tobacco any better than anyone else, but something needs to kill every one or we will all live forever and there are too many people on this planet as it is! Here in america every good slave is expected to live hard and fast and die young so that they won't stain the social support system! You'll too good to die or just scared sensless?

  • Comment number 14.

    @ 17:24pm 8th Apr 2011, tpsh
    You say you strongly oppose 'totalitarian' type behaviour from any government - perhaps you should also be concerned about similar behaviour from large corporations who are unelected, motivated solely by profit and are not accountable for their deleterious behaviour. Sure there are the other issues you mention, but that is no reason not to start tackling problems (think of the idiom - how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time). Some freedoms do trump others. Breathing fresh air a fundamental right that overrides the rights of those that 'choose' to pollute the air and inflict their consequences of their choices on me (hospitalisation due to asthma) and smokers cost to the public purse when they use scarce health funds to repair the damage to their and my health as a result of their choice. Not only should we draw attention to the negative consequences of something that is both addictive and not essential, but perhaps there should also be a levy on these products (tobacco, alcohol etc) to meet community costs they cause (think health, policing, domestic violence shelters, to name a few). Let the users and abusers pay their own way!

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm sceptical---nicotine is just another addictive drug and I can't see how packaging will make much difference to consumption,after all, other(illegal) dangerous drugs are supplied in very plain packaging.
    I agree as to the inconsistency of government regulation,a very dangerous drug alcohol, is freely sold and advertised,it's mainly an historical accident why some drugs are legal and others illegal.
    Still,the government has a right and obligation to inform the public of the dangers of smoking,the cigarette manufacturers certainly didn't tell the truth,did they?

    @ Bubba #11,
    How is informing the public of the dangers of smoking a violation of anyone's freedoms?

  • Comment number 16.

    As a person who recently gave up smoking I can say its one of the hardest things I've had to do and its totally worth it. I started smoking in my teens under peer pressure and the deluded view of "coolness". My Dad tried to tell me if I started it'd keep me poor and unhealthy and of course he was right.

    I absolutely agree these measures are warranted if anything I'd have smoking laws go much further and aimed specifically at kids who are still taking up the habit in alarming rates, for instance I can't recall how many times I've seen groups of teens hanging out at the local shopping centre smoking and some of these kids couldn't have been older than 14, so no smoking in ANY public areas.

    Also I think much more stringent laws for popular media everytime someone lights up on TV or a movie I instantly feel the need for a cigarette so in conjunction with slowly increasing the price until it becomes unaffordable to its primary market and no public smoking areas I think measurable results would happen.

    The implication that smoking will turn into a black market not unlike pot is reaching. Smoking will never have the appeal that harder drugs have for black marketeers. There is not enough profit for them for on thing you need to mass produce in order to keep your market addicted which is tricky, unlike pot which is smoked for more recreational purposes, needs less space to cultivate and can be sold at higher prices. The guarantee of supply is one of the things that has kept populations addicted, without that the market it for it would only decrease.

    As to the question of freedoms I don't think its an issue people can still choose to smoke, all the government is doing is stripping away the pretty packaging that allows smokers to delude themselves that its not really that bad and that associated health risks won't happen to them. If you want to use the nanny state arguement there are far less serious laws then smoking to point fingers at. Ultimately I think if it's in issue that ends up costing tax payers then its in the public interest to regulate. I wonder if alcohol will ever be givin them same scrutiny somehow I doubt it, that particular dirty habit will be much harder to break.

  • Comment number 17.

    Why the obsession with tobacco? It has been used since Sir Walter raliegh discovered the south americans smoking it.

    My father and brother where non smokers,both loved their food,both where advised to seriously adapt to a non fat diet,both continued to eat butter and dairy. Both died as a result of their diet creating heart artery problems.

    Why then are not butter and possibly cheese being proposed,or at least being discussed, as candidates to be presented for sale in dirty olive green coloured packages with graphic scenes of blocked veins and deseased hearts.

    The estimate of 15000 deaths each year from smoking "related" health problems, is i would say very small indeed ompared to the number of diet related heart attacks.

  • Comment number 18.

    Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the proposed laws in relation to smoking, these seemingly radical proposals are simply another political attempt at " for the publics good" grandstanding. A "world first".

    The latter is what some elements in Australia thrive on, probably to gain additional profile abroad. The sad thing is no-one abroad will hardly take notice.

  • Comment number 19.


    The obsession with tobacco and not certain foods is that,

    1. Getting people to quit smoking is achievable.
    2. People will always need to eat its a much grayer area and harder to police.
    3. Smoking serves no purpose whatsoever and costs billions in health care.

    Diet most certainly is an issue in many countries at the moment but it needs a far wider broad scale approach, then the phrase just don't do it. After all you can't quit food.

  • Comment number 20.

    The people on this forum who are advocating 'let legal business do as it pleases' and 'don't regulate' are forgetting that, despite their legal standing, corporations and businesses are not people. I don't think governments should tell people what to do, but one of their key functions should be to tell businesses what they can't do. Otherwise, people would always be at the mercy of corporations which are richer than us, have no moral compass (in fact, they are required by law to put stockholders first, not customers), have more minds working for them, and are legally allowed things we'd never have the opportunity (or the legal know-how) to do.
    Big government is needed to protect average Joe from big business.

  • Comment number 21.

    I assume that all the executives do wear their seat-belts in vehicles, as prescribed by law.

    What's the difference?

  • Comment number 22.

    Most people seem to want to abolish everything that makes life enjoyable. Clamp down on smoking, drinking, gambling, eating fast food and even using fossil fuels to keep warm. I'm surprised nobody has suggested the abolition of sex. If these puritans are successful in getting what they want I hope they bring in a law to help me cope. I specifically hope they legalise euthanasia. I for one don't look forward to a life as bland as some people seem to want.

    It's funny how people always go on about the health costs associated with certain habits. The clear inference being that if everybody leads a perfectly righteous life they will peacefully and economically pass away from something like a cardiac arrest. Has anybody heard of diseases like alzheimers. Being stuck in some type of institution for the last years of your life is neither cheap or enjoyable. The fact is something will kill us all and the treatment you receive before you die is going to be expensive.

    Just for the record, I don't smoke and never have. I'm just not a hypocrite because I know I have my vices and I'm not prepared to apply double standards. I'm now going to the football in my petrol guzzling car and then I'm going to have a fatty meat pie washed drown by three or four beers.

  • Comment number 23.

    As a smoker Im quite used to being discriminated against. Not in Australia but the same concept is being proposed here in the UK. It will not make any difference to me I shall carry on smoking until the day I decide to give up. I will NOT be bullied into giving up. By the way how come we have not HYS in the UK now but seem to be subsidising this HYS for Australia. I wasnt aware that Australia paid the UK licence fee ! BBC hang your head in shame !!!

  • Comment number 24.

    For once Gillard and Co. plan to do something I can support. Much as I detest smoking, there are always people who will indulge in vices that bring short-term pleasure to themselves but long-term harm to both themselves and others. Banning them altogether is invariably an open invitation to organized crime to meet the demand, often with horrendous consequences.

    The best way to deal with the main substance vices is through legalization, regulation and taxation. Tobacco is a harmful and addictive substance and is only legal by virtue of historical accident. Therefore, legalize marijuana, cocaine and heroin, and make these available using the same restrictions, taxation and packaging regimes as tobacco products. Australia is well-placed to implement such policies since it is an island which makes illegal exportation difficult to states where these substances are illegal. In Europe for example, it would be necessary for all states to adopt a common policy to avoid smuggling chaos.

    Having got something right for a change, Gillard and Co. then decide to disallow a takeover of the Australian Stock Exchange by the Singapore Stock Exchange, supposedly to help preserve the Australian financial system. Pandering to petty protectionism at its worst from the Greens and Independents. Anything to hold on to power; right Julia? Shameful!

    Anyway, maybe this is for another thread.

  • Comment number 25.

    I was disappointed to see the previous thread “Sex Scandals” closed off so quickly. This is a serious issue which successive governments have shied away from resolving. Supposedly, Australia is a state whereby the military is subordinate to the elected civil power. The latest incident at the ADA is particularly disturbing since these characters are supposed to tbe crème de la crème who will be providing the ADF’s leaders of tomorrow. Anyway, congrats to Ben Roberts-Smith; it takes a lowly corporal to remind everyone that the role of the ADF is to defend the interests of Australia and Australians, and not to indulge yobbos engaged in booze, drugs and sex escapades.

  • Comment number 26.

    I think this is the last big step that can be taken to reduce cigarette smoking and I strongly applaud it. However, I strongly oppose any move to even put warning labels on alcohol. It will be interesting to see if smoking can dive to only 10% of the population as the government projects and if it does, I'm betting other countries will adopt the same policy.

  • Comment number 27.

    Peter D @ 25

    So was I,the state of the ADF is a very important subject.

  • Comment number 28.

    As a young man I use to smoke heavily for 11 years. It was the worst thing I ever did and the best thing I ever did in giving it up. I now haven't smoked for nearly thirty years. So, I know first hand the effects of smoking which took a very long time to overcome. When people smoke next to me I feel that I am being assaulted, no less than being punched. At last the Government is getting really tough. And to the Big Tobacco.......Boo! Hoo!

  • Comment number 29.

    In response to EMPS. I totally agree with you. However, if you are sitting next to me eating fatty foods it doesn't affect me. Whereas, if you are sitting next to me smoking, it does affect me. So, I am sorry that I cannot support your argument, although I defend your right to smoke, I must also defend my right to unnecessary contamination of my breathable air.

  • Comment number 30.

    If the government had any real cojones they would tax cigarettes much more highly. Nicola Roxon herself said that the revenues from cigarette taxation do not cover the cost of healthcare for smoking related disease. Expensive cigarettes with discourage new starters, and those who don't stop are contributing more to their likely health costs. Simples!

  • Comment number 31.

    @ 29 StardrifterWa wrote:

    if you are sitting next to me eating fatty foods it doesn't affect me. Whereas, if you are sitting next to me smoking, it does affect me. So, I am sorry that I cannot support your argument.

    Your argument is based solely on self, conforming to so many examples of individual
    complaint against smokers infringing on personal space. Today, with curtailments on where smokers are allowed to indulge, it would now be a rare event to have a smoker having a fag next to you.

    My argument on the other hand is on the broad issue of health and highlighting food substances that generally are given the green light as wholesome and necessary when in fact they are proven to cause very serious health problems.

    I agree poeple do have to eat. Butter is not necessary to sustain health.There can be a balanced healthy diet completely without butter. Yet it contributes to hardened arteries and heart attacks,this is without doubt.

    Of course politics and economics become involved. There is a large dairy industry sustaining our farmers: I mean, who is going to denegrate the country life with its images of cows in the field and the hard working poeple out in the paddocks etc; etc;

    Tobacco is a green leafy crop. As we know then it is made into this horrible stuff that kills everyone eventually who smokes it. It is demonisied, the producers are virtually regarded as drug dealers.

    It is a drug, and is taken by choice. As to its addiction, give me a break, poeple who want to give up it is their choice and if their willpower wont allow them its their problem. To be addicted is personal weakness,as simple as that. Dont blame the "big tobacco".

    I am not a smoker of anything.

  • Comment number 32.

    19 @DoomOnYou wrote:

    1. Getting people to quit smoking is achievable.
    2. People will always need to eat its a much grayer area and harder to police.
    3. Smoking serves no purpose whatsoever and costs billions in health care.

    Diet most certainly is an issue in many countries at the moment but it needs a far wider broad scale approach, then the phrase just don't do it. After all you can't quit food.
    There is no value in your argument. Poeple can choose what to eat.

  • Comment number 33.

    The Australian cigarette market is dominated by the English and American multinationals. Those companies will talk a good game but at the end of the day the will do what they are told. They are not going to take on a determined and well resourced opponent - that is why they focus their litigation efforts in third world countries.

    I wonder if Australia's new found confidence in taking on large multinationals will extend to English and US mining companies?

    For anyone interested here is a link to the board members of Brisitsh American Tobacco. People responsible for peddling cigarettes around the world.

    Their families must be very proud of them.

  • Comment number 34.

    Oh and for those worried about the SGX/ASX merger - I have it on very good authority that will only be a matter of time. Who sells for the first offer.

  • Comment number 35.

    @33 Emps

    Thank you for dismissing my arguement, but that doesn't make it less valid you propose to change the way we eat? really and how would you do that? Outlaw McDonalds and KFC perhaps? Or maybe just forbid them to advertise their products, but what then of all the money these corporate giants hand to people like the Australian Cricket team, and the huge amount of power the lobby groups have in politics, these institution are far more intreched in our society than smoking requiring a huge and radical change in how consumers are marketed to no doubt at the cost of mere billions, hence my arguement that the achievability of getting people to quit smoking is much higher.

    You talk about will power is if that is all that is required of people to live healthy and righteous lives, since when have humans as a species ever been very good at discplining themselves without outside influence? You completely ignore the amount of conflicting and mis-information that exists, do you check the nutritional value of everything you purchase no matter how small? Whenever you walk into a supermarket you are inundated with information about the wonderful goodness of any given companies food. Should every person be expected to know the exact calories and kilojoules in any product and its nutritional value?

    Last is purely political its fashionable to Pick on tabacco nobody has sympathy for smokers and you can you tax them and regulate them all you want and be congradulated for it, if your slumping in the polls bring out a good old smoking tax and let the applause and adulation roll in with little to no cost to yourself or your party's interest try and do that to a company like dairy farmers and you've got everyone including primary producers, consumers, civil libertarians on your case.

    and for the record my third point in my previous post stands, Smoking serves no purpose whatsoever and costs billions in health care further more it does damage to other people in the form of second hand smoke. So for the time being lets stick to things we actually have a hope of achieving than just being defeatist and doing nothing at all. To those that say you have to die of something think about this:

    If you were told that you were going to die in a car accident today, but you could avoid it if you turned left instead of right but you would only live for two more weeks anyway, would you truly say 'oh well may as well just die today' or would you take those two weeks and spend it with the people that you love?

  • Comment number 36.

    33 @ Cassandra wrote:

    I wonder if Australia's new found confidence in taking on large multinationals will extend to English and US mining companies?

    The old saying "look before you leap" applies to your thought on Australia's new found confidence in taking on Foriegn mining companies.

    Don't you realize Australia needs them more than they need Australia. Without them
    and the benefits this country recieves from "their" production,Australia would be close to being one of the economical basket cases the country boasts about not being anywhere near the level of those other countries.

  • Comment number 37.

    33 Cassandra

    “I wonder if Australia's new found confidence in taking on large multinationals will extend to English and US mining companies?”

    Which English and US mining companies are you referring to and why should Australia be taking them on?

  • Comment number 38.

    A general comment to those who oppose further regulation - I am a great advocate of personal liberty, coupled with the requisite degree of responsibility. Unfortunately, I have encountered more than a few smokers who cannot quite grasp the second concept. Do smokers have the right to indulge in their habit? Certainly - provided they remain well away from non-smokers. My right not to be exposed to secondhand smoke will trump the right of a smoker to light up in my vicinity every time. If anyone wants to consume a product that has an even chance of eventually killing them, that is their business. However, they should certainly not impinge on the right of others to breathable air. At my local railway station, I have on several occasions had someone come and sit beside me and blithely start puffing away, despite the prominent "no smoking" signs. Is it fair that I should have to stand up and move away to avoid their smoke? Rights and freedoms are never absolute - there always has to be some form of compromise to maximise the overall level of public wellbeing. In any event, this measure in no way places additional restrictions on smokers themselves - rather, it the final step in the phasing out of tobacco advertising, a process which began in Australia in the 1970s.

  • Comment number 39.

    The elephant in the room or should I say planet is overpopulation and if all the smokers die then less of that, hmmm? The other elephant is governmental control of people's private lives. What gets me is that once they got hold of the tobacco control in the US now they are going after food. Alcohol causes just as much death and injury but that will never be attacked by the powers that be because lots of them( including our finest senators-lol!) are quite the boozers. Overpopulation is going to cause more death than anything else but everyone wants to live forever. The trouble is everyone is going to die of something.....................

  • Comment number 40.

    10 years ago i had a full and complete laryngectomy...that is the removal of my larynx pharynx,epiglostis,and part of the oesophogus..6 months later half the left side of my neck ,all, due to cancer..and ,although i smoked my cancer was not contibuted to the the cancer.If what your goverment say is right ask them for the proof..Do you not have civil libertys in oz...

  • Comment number 41.

    There was big settlements from the tobacco corporations in the US but none of that money was used for rehab of nicotine addicts. The monies went to other pet projects of our powers that be. Nicotine is harder to quit than heroin and I notice that as tobacco got more expensive nicotine withdrawal aids did likewise so corporations still are making money of the nicotine addicts aren't they?
    Regarding the monitoring of food products and health. The obesity rate in the generation who are now of age to be soldiers is bad. Also in our children the rate of diabetes is rocketing as well as hypertension. Should we police the food families buy? Can we? The price of eating healthy food is getting very expensive and we are in a global recession, crops have failed. Now we want to go to bio-fuel and farmland used to grow wheat will now be used for corn. So what's the solution to that? How are you going to impose clean air on India and China who are steadily polluting the air we breath we carbon dioxide and other pollutants? The technology is not affordable yet and the last try at ethanol was a disaster. We don't want nukes, coal.....but we all want our wheels. So pick on tobacco and take the masses minds of the real problem which is overpopulation, dwindling food supply, global warming and so on.


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