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Australia to mandate plain packs for cigarettes as part of new tobacco control offensive

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c2401 (Published 30 April 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2401
  1. Melissa Sweet
  1. 1Sydney

    Australia plans to become the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging of cigarettes as part of a raft of new tobacco control measures.

    The Australian government also announced today a 25% hike in tobacco excise, which it predicts will cut the country’s total tobacco consumption by around 6%.

    The move to plain packaging, to be introduced by mid 2012, will restrict or ban the use of tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours, and promotional text other than brand and product names in a standard colour, position, font style, and size.

    The government plans to develop and test package design to make cigarettes less appealing, particularly to young people. It will also crack down on Australian internet advertising of tobacco products, and increase spending on “hard hitting” advertising campaigns.

    Public health and anti-smoking groups have applauded the measures, which were among recommendations made last year by the National Preventative Health Taskforce with the aim of reducing smoking rates from the present 16% to 10% or less (www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/home-1).

    From midnight tonight, excise on cigarettes will increase from $A0.2622 (£0.16; €0.18; $0.24) to $0.32775 per stick and on loose leaf tobacco from $327.77 to $409.71 per kilogram of tobacco. The price of a pack of 30 cigarettes will rise by around $A2.16.

    The government predicts that this measure alone will cut the number of smokers by two to three per cent, or around 87 000 Australians.

    The excise increase is expected to raise an extra $A5bn over four years, and all tobacco revenues will be directly invested in the health system through the National Health and Hospitals Network Fund.

    The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) expects the measures will lead to dramatic reductions in smoking.

    “This is outstanding news for tobacco control and for Australia’s health,” the association’s president, Professor Mike Daube, said in a statement.

    “The Government’s actions will over time prevent literally hundreds of thousands of premature deaths from cancer, heart disease and many other conditions. Australia has become the world leader in tobacco control.”

    Becky Freeman, a researcher at the University of Sydney who published an article last year calling for plain packaging (Freeman B, Chapman S, Rimmer M. Review: The case for the plain packaging of tobacco products. Addiction 2008;103:580-90) said that cigarette packs were a “mini portable advertisement,” and acted as “silent salesmen.”

    “This is a world first that will undoubtedly be rolled out in other countries who follow Australia’s lead,” she said.

    Another tobacco control campaigner from the University of Sydney, Professor Simon Chapman, described the move as “massive global news.”

    British American Tobacco Australia said in a statement that it was surprised and disappointed by the new measures, and warned that the excise increase and plain packaging requirement “will be welcomed by the illegal market.”

    The Preventative Health Taskforce’s report noted that the industry has argued that plain packaging would make it easier to counterfeit cigarette packets, but said this “need not be the case.”

    Strategies proposed in the International Framework Convention on Tobacco Control draft protocol include the mandating of tax markings that would make cigarette packages extremely difficult to counterfeit, the report said.

    Some experts being quoted in the media say that the tobacco industry may mount legal challenges against the plain packaging move.

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2401

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