Cancer and Tobacco Control

Big Tobacco loses plain packaging battle in Australia

Written by Health-e News

In a landmark ruling, which could potentially strengthen the move to similar legislation in South Africa, the Australian high court dismissed the tobacco industry’€™s challenge to the ‘€œplain packaging law’€.

This means that from December, all cigarettes packaging in Australia will be sold in drab dark brown packs with no trademark brand logos. Companies will be able to print their name and the cigarette brand in a small, prescribed font on the packets. The boxes will carry stark health warning messages and pictures, which will cover 75 percent of the front of the pack and 90 percent of the back.

The Australian government’€™s roll-out of plain packaging for tobacco products are being closely followed by other countries, including New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

In South Africa, the Department of Health is currently implementing new regulations that will require graphic images to appear on tobacco packaging. ‘€œWe are not looking at plain packaging at the moment, but tobacco control is an ongoing process, so we’€™ll see,’€ a spokesperson said recently.

Anne Jones, chief executive of the group, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Australia, believes the tobacco industry’€™s response is not aimed at retaining the Australian smoking market, which is small compared to other countries, but because once Australia succeeds in implementing these laws, other countries may follow suit.

‘€œThey [tobacco companies] are acting in Australia, because they don’€™t want any success that we have [against them] to go viral and to domino to other countries,’€ Jones told Health-e during an interview last year.

‘€œBecause the tobacco industry is so powerful and threatening, I think some countries have been waiting to see how Australia gets it [the law] through. I think all the lessons learned will be quickly looked at by other countries to see how best it can be done.’€

‘€œThe cigarette companies hate nothing more than laws that restrict its ability to sell more cigarettes,’€ says Dr Yussuf Saloojee, of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) in South Africa. ‘€œTheir legal challenges are destined to fail because the courts accept that more cigarette sales, mean more sickness and more deaths, and that government’€™s have a duty to act to reduce these harms.’€

Saloojee explains that the purpose of the legislation is to prevent youth from starting smoking by reducing the appeal of tobacco packaging.

‘€œResearch shows that young people ‘€˜like’€™ regular packs and found plain packaging ‘€˜boring’€™ and ‘€˜less trendy’€™,’€ Saloojee said. ‘€œThey reported that they were less likely to start smoking if all cigarettes were sold in plain packs.’€

Plain packaging has several other benefits, says Saloojee. It will remove the ability of the cigarette companies to falsely imply that some brands like ‘€˜light’€™ or ‘€˜low tar’€™ are less harmful than regular cigarettes.   Nor will cigarette manufacturers be able to market cigarettes in ‘€˜slim’€™ packages to women to promote the belief that smoking is a way to stay thin and control weight.

The Constitutional Court in South Africa recently denied British American Tobacco SA leave to appeal against a Supreme Court ruling that a ban on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products under the Tobacco Products Control Act was ‘€œreasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society’€.

‘€œThe judgements from Australia and South Africa show that tobacco control laws are fair, responsible and based on a solid legal and scientific platform. Tobacco industry challenges to these laws may generate much media hype but in the end are nothing more than puffery,’€ Saloojee added.

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Health-e News

Health-e News is South Africa's dedicated health news service and home to OurHealth citizen journalism. Follow us on Twitter @HealtheNews