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Australia rolls out plain cigarette packets

4th December 2012

Plain packages carrying grim health warnings are now being handed out to anyone buying cigarettes in Australia, as new legislation takes effect.

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The country has become the first in the world to introduce the measures, which ban all company logos and colourful designs from cigarette packaging.

Cigarettes must now be sold in plain, khaki-coloured boxes which carry photographs of diseased lungs and other graphic reminders of the health effects of smoking. They also carry written health warnings, as before.

Tobacco companies are only allowed to print their name and the type of cigarette in small, plain text on the underside of the box.

According to Australian health minister Tanya Plibersek, the move represents the "last gasp" of a dying industry.

And a spokeswoman for the anti-smoking campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Anne Jones, said that plain packaging had removed all the personality from a packet of cigarettes.

With health warnings in large print, no colouring and associated imagery, smoking had become shorn of its glamour, Jones said.

Tobacco companies have no outlet to advertise themselves in Australia now, as television and radio commercials for tobacco were banned in 1976, with a similar ban rolled out in print media in 1989.

Sporting and cultural events were banned from accepting sponsorship from tobacco companies in 1992.

The current Labor government has made plain packaging its target, in a bid to remove any communication options for the industry altogether.

The campaign came after a review of evidence in May 2011 regarding the impact of packaging design on young people's view of cigarettes.

Cancer Council Australia released a video showing children talking about the associations they make to colours used on cigarette packaging.

One boy is reminded of his favourite car by red on a cigarette packet, while a girl likes the pink on a different brand. One boy refers to the colours on the packet as "heavenly."

The campaign sparked a reaction from health officials, who began to push forward the plain packaging legislation.

The legislative side of the work was spear-headed by former health minister Nicola Roxon, who lost her father to a smoking-related illness when she was only 10 years old.

Currently, smoking-related deaths number 15,000 annually in Australia, and cost the taxpayer around AU$30 billion (£19 billion) a year.

Now, the government wants to target reducing the number of smokers to less than 10% of the general population by 2018, compared with 16% in 2007.

Major tobacco companies including Phillip Morris, Imperial Tobacco and British Imperial American Tobacco ran a high-profile media campaign against the move to plain packaging, saying it misleads people and encourages the smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes, which in turn leads to falling prices.

However, the government's case was upheld in the High Court last August.

The legislation and the reaction to it have been closely followed by other countries in the world that are considering similar legislation, including Britain, France, Norway, India and New Zealand.

But the tobacco industry argues that the Australian government only won that lawsuit because of the peculiarities of Australian constitutional law. They could still take further action at the World Trade Organisation.

But campaigners say that, in Australia at least, plain packaging is here to stay. While the move is unlikely to affect established smokers, it could play a role in discouraging young people from starting to smoke in the first place.


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