Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 7 - October 2011
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Australia pushing plain packaging

On August 25, the Parliament’s lower house in Australia passed two bills aimed at banning tobacco company product branding. The legislation, which dictates that cigarette packages must be a uniform olive brown colour with the name of the brand in small, standard type, is expected to pass the upper house in the coming weeks. The Australian government introduced the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill into Parliament on July 6.

The legislation requires all tobacco sold in Australia to be sold in plain packs, with no industry logos, brand imagery, colours or promotional text. The only distinguishable mark will be the brand name in a standard colour, standard position, and standard font size and style. In addition, health warnings will be updated and increased from 30 to 75% of the front of the pack and 90% of the back. “The [Prime Minister Julia] Gillard government is absolutely committed to reducing smoking-related death and disease,” said Minister for Health and Ageing Nicola Roxon. “Plain packaging will remove the last remaining form of tobacco advertising in Australia. We know that currently packaging is a very powerful tool for tobacco companies to recruit new smokers to their deadly products. Big tobacco is vigorously fighting against this legislation for one simple reason: because they know, as we do, that it will work. While they are fighting to protect their profits, we are fighting to protect lives.” The law is set to come into effect in January 2012, with a grace period for companies to comply.

British American Tobacco Australia (BATA) Ltd., the Australian market leader, warned that the government would have to spend millions of dollars in legal fees in numerous challenges to the law and potentially billions in compensation. Philip Morris Asia Limited, which is based in Hong Kong and owns the Australian affiliate Philip Morris Limited, had already filed a notice of claim in an Australian court in June, arguing the legislation violates a bilateral investment treaty between Australia and Hong Kong.

On August 22, Australia won its first legal battle against Big Tobacco when the Federal Court ruled on the side of Gillard’s government in its battle with BATA. The tobacco giant wants to get its hands on 1995 legal advice relating to plain packaging presented to the government and plans to appeal the decision to the High Court as soon as possible.

The government is pleased the Federal Court has recognized the public interest in protecting the confidentiality of legal advice to the government,” Health Minister Nicola Roxon said in a statement. “We’ve always said that Big Tobacco will try and fight plain packaging tooth and nail and we expect them to continue their desperate tactics.

The Government of New Zealand is throwing its support behind Australia in the fight against tobacco. Plans are being made to introduce plain packaging legislation there, as well.

By Joe Strizzi