Australia bans branding on cigarette packagingSaturday 01 December 2012 10.53
Stringent anti-tobacco laws came into effect in Australia today, requiring manufacturers to package cigarettes in drab olive green packs with pictures of ill babies and diseased body parts.
The legislation, considered the toughest in the world, strips packs of all branding, bright colours and logos, leaving only the name printed in identical small font.
Australia's plain-packaging laws are a potential watershed for the global industry, which serves one billion regular smokers, World Health Organisation statistics show.
While Australia has one of the world's lowest smoking rates and the changes will have little impact on multinationals' profits, other countries are considering similar steps.
The government says the aim is to deter young people from smoking by stripping the habit of glamour.
It is relying on studies showing that if people have not started smoking by age 26, there is a 99% chance they will never take it up.
Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said although smoking is legal, it is a deadly habit.
"It is a legal product but it is the only legal product that if taken as recommended by its maker is likely to kill half of its regular users.
“If we knew that when tobacco was made legal or was first introduced into common usage I don't think it would be a legal product today," Ms Plibersek said.
As Australia is the first country to ban branding on tobacco product packaging there is only experimental research to back up the experts’ claims that the move will work.
"Experience shows that whenever we've brought in stricter health warnings, because we've gone from little tiny text warnings that you couldn't see on the box in the 1970s to the present day graphic health warnings, every time we've done that we've seen an impact on smoking rates, so this is just the next step," said
Becky Freeman, a public health researcher at Sydney University.
The industry lobbied hard against the laws. Tobacco firms said they would boost black market trade, leading to cheaper, more accessible cigarettes.
"We've been talking about the serious unintended consequences that will flow on from the legislation. We've been talking about the effects on the illegal black market in Australia.
"Obviously when you make packets of cigarettes easy to copy, becoming exactly the same, the counterfeiters from China and Indonesia will bring lots more of these products down to sell on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne and all across the country," said the spokesperson for British American Tobacco, Scott McIntyre.
Elsewhere in the world, the tobacco industry has shifted its focus to potential copycat legislation.
Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have filed complaints with the World Trade Organisation, funded by the tobacco industry, claiming the laws unfairly restrict trade, although their trade with Australia is minimal.
A World Trade Organisation ruling is likely in mid-2013.