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WHO backs Australia in tobacco row

27th March 2012

World Health Organisation director-general Margaret Chan has called on the world to support Australia in its tobacco ban, as health experts in the country hit out at a New Zealand-based companyfor upping production for export to its larger neighbour.

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Chan called on the world to “stand shoulder to shoulder” against the tobacco industry’s attempts to overturn stringent new tobacco control laws, the first in the world to require companies to package cigarettes in drab brown packets carrying health warnings and photos of diseases linked to smoking.

Chan wants plain packaging to be a big success in Australia so other countries may be encouraged to pass similar legislation, she told delegates to the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Singapore.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris' Asia division is currently suing the Australian government under a bilateral trade agreement, while an industry group has pursued claims in the domestic civil courts.

Jane Halton, Secretary of Australia’s Department of Health and Ageing, vowed that Australia would defend itself vigorously in both cases.

Chan said a united front would help ensure than "no tobacco industry can survive". She said the industry probably viewed the Australian law as "the writing on the wall".

Chan told delegates in an earlier speech last week that the industry had long used tactics aimed at undermining anti-tobacco campaigns and the WHO's own Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

But now, they were acting openly and very aggressively in several countries, including Uruguay, Norway, Turkey and Australia, she said.

She called on younger people to use social networks to support Australia.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's Cancer Society has hit out at Imperial Tobacco for quadrupling production at its Petone factory in the country with a view to exporting more colorfully packaged cigarettes to Australia.

An additional four billion cigarettes will now be exported annually to Australia, a move which Cancer Society health promotion manager Jan Pearson said was disappointing and unpopular.

Pearson estimated that 20,000 Australian smokers who could be supplied by the increased production capacity would die a cancer-related death.

Petone now has six new production lines which can produce 8,000 cigarettes a minutes, and will boost staff jobs by 50.

The factory will export major brands including JPS, Horizon and Davidoff, once production comes online.

Factory management defended the upgrade, saying staff had worked hard to persuade Imperial that their factory represented a good investment.

New Zealanders are smoking far fewer cigarettes than they were in the early 1980s, with the total number of cigarettes smoked falling to two billion last year, compared with six billion four decades ago.

The country has, like many other developed economies, repeatedly boosted taxes on tobacco and passed laws limiting advertising and restricting sales.


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