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Plain Cigarette Packaging: Australia’s Victory

“We have taken on big tobacco… and we have won”, said Australia’s Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, hailing the judgement from Australia’s High Court that the country’s tobacco companies had failed in their challenge to the Australian Government’s plans to introduce plain packaging for all cigarettes from Dec 1, 2012.

From this date forward, all cigarettes will be sold in drab, olive-green packaging with enormous health warnings, with the brand only visible in a small, standard font. The government hopes to make smoking less appealing to children and reduce smoking levels population-wide. “This is good news for every Australian parent who worries about their child picking up an addictive and deadly habit”, said Roxon, who, as Australia’s former Minister for Health and Ageing, introduced this pioneering legislation. Big tobacco has not yet given up, with two other cases ongoing. Philip Morris Asia is suing Australia for breach of an investment treaty with Hong Kong, while Ukraine, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic have fi led a complaint with the World Trade Organization, claiming the legislation breaches Australia’s commitment under global trade rules. Both cases are likely to take years and will not prevent Australia actually introducing plain packaging. However, should the tobacco companies succeed, the government would likely have to fi nancially compensate them for their loss of brand (but not withdraw the plain packaging).

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said she hoped that this decision would start a domino-eff ect of similar legislation in other countries, helping prevent some of the 6 million deaths estimated to be caused by smoking every year. The UK has just fi nished a consultation on plain packaging and another is ongoing in New Zealand.

The European Union has announced it will probably revise its tobacco products directive during 2012, which could include plain packaging measures. “This decision will embolden governments, especially in low- and middle-income countries, that have been hesitant to implement the
measures in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [FCTC], fearing some sort of ‘backlash’ from the tobacco industry, such as a lawsuit”, said Laurent Huber, Director of the
Framework Convention Alliance, a group of more than 350 organisations in more than 100 countries that support the FCTC. “India, South Africa, Indonesia, and China are said to be
considering plain packaging”, he added.

By Tony Kirby of the Lancet