Plain Packaging of Tobacco

The packaging of tobacco is a major part of its advertising – as the tobacco industry admits in its own documents. That’s why ASH and many other organisations support mandated plain standardised packaging of tobacco products – and why the industry is fighting it.

The sovereignty of countries should be absolute and not influenced by multinational companies with complex accountability. This laudable move towards plain packaging must not be derailed by veiled tactics from companies with vested interests. Only then can progress be made to tackle tobacco-associated diseases, which are largely preventable, but mostly lethal.

The Lancet medical journal, August 2011

Stop Press

Smoking cuases mouth and throat cancer.Australia’s world-first plain packs laws now in force! What the Oz packs look like: disgusting. Survey and sales evidence shows the success of plain cigarette packaging.

Australian News

Tobacco retailers claim transactions slower; evidence says faster

March 2013: Survey of 450 tobacco retailers, commissioned by Philip Morris, finds most retailers believe plain packaging has slowed their transaction times. Australian 7/3/13

But this is contradicted by a survey of actual measured tobacco transaction times in 100 varied Perth suburban retail outlets before and after plain packs took effect on 1/12/12. Curtin Uni finds more retailers reduced than increased transaction times. Authors suggest re current UK considerations: “If they sincerely represent the best interests of their members and support the future health of British citizens, national retail groups should immediately withdraw their objections to generic tobacco packaging.” Study

Tobacco giants spent $14m in fight against plain packs

February 2013: The tobacco industry spent around $14m in its fight against plain packaging in Australia. ABC analysis of funding disclosures shows $9m was spent by BAT and Philip Morris to bankroll the Alliance of Australian Retailers campaign; plus an extra $4m media spend by Imperial, a further $500,000 by Philip Morris on media, and smaller amounts. ABC news 1/2/13

Liberal Senator linked with tobacco and gun lobby groups

January 2013: Key Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi is linked with powerful lobby groups the American Legislative Exchange Council and Heartland Institute – both connected with campaigns against tobacco and gun regulation. The Senator had four US trips paid by the groups, some around the time of the tobacco industry’s High Court challenge and aggressive lobbying against plain packs. He opposed one of the plain pack bills in parliament in 2011. He defends not declaring the links, denying they are a conflict of interest.

Quit ad says “you can’t hide the harm”

December 2012: New mass media quit smoking campaign makes the point that whatever you do to cover the health warning on the packet, you can’t hide the health harm.

Plain packs in force – and already a turnoff for smokers

December 1, 2012: In a world first, mandatory plain standardised packaging of tobacco takes full effect throughout Australia – and is already turning off smokers. The reform scores worldwide media attention, with UK, NZ and other governments poised to follow.

Tobacco industry skirts plain pack law to brink of deadline

November 2012: Tobacco giant British American Tobacco is forced to remove non-compliant markings from its cigarettes on brink of plain packaging deadline December 1. Three-letter watermarks indicating cities lashed by Health Minister Plibersek as “cigarette companies trying to push the boundaries”. ABC News 29/11/12

High Court’s 6:1 judgment: plain packs not unconstitutional, no acquisition

October 2012: Australia’s High Court publishes full judgment in 6:1 decision backing plain pack legislation against constitutional challenge by tobacco companies. Court finds the legislation valid; not amounting to acquisition of tobacco industry property; not leading to Government or anyone else obtaining proprietary benefit or interest. JTI and BATA vs C’wealth: High Court judgment 5/10/12

Big 3 plain packs response: reassurance, more descriptors, subliminal ploys, protest

September 2012: In leadup to plain packs changeover starting Oct 1, Big 3 tobacco companies launch new packaging and retailer briefings. BAT will have at least 38 descriptors on its brands. All companies reassure unchanged “quality”, remind retailers of legal responsibilities to comply. Philip Morris urges continued protest. An Imperial brand makes shrewd subliminal connection with plain pack design. Health Minister Tanya Plibersek says industry response a “sick joke”, warns attempts to save brands by catchy taglines won’t work.

High Court rejects legal challenge to plain packs

August 2012: Australia’s High Court rejects four tobacco giants’ legal challenge to plain pack laws, ruling the legislation is not unconstitutional. Companies ordered to pay government’s costs. Newly manufactured packs must comply by Oct 1, all non-compliant packs to be off shelves by Dec 1. Health leaders welcome decision as victory for public health against industry’s aggressive, deceptive scare campaign.

Metal jacket move to cover plain packs

May 2012: Tobacco companies warned against distributing metal covers to hide new plain packs and health warnings. Health Minister Tanya Plibersek warns these won’t comply with new laws from December 1. Minister also announces tough new penalties for tobacco smuggling. Melbourne Age 31/5/12

Tobacco giant in sneaky ad for cut-price cigs

May 2012: British American Tobacco releases new cut-price cigarette brand, selling for just $11.50 per 25-pack. A thinly-disguised advertisement, using flaky claims of illicit trade as excuse; also an attempt to undermine plain packaging and tobacco tax increases.

Tobacco industry beats illicit trade drum again

May 2012: Australia’s tobacco giants renew wild claims of rising illicit trade in leadup to plain pack laws taking effect. Deloitte report commissioned by “Big 3″ claims counterfeit/contraband tobacco, fuelled by pack reform, tripled in a year, costing $1b lost tax – claim unsupported by independent evidence.

Tobacco companies fund international challenge

April 2012: Australia’s Big Two tobacco companies, Philip Morris and BAT, admit funding legal costs of two countries, Ukraine and Honduras, threatening challenge in World Trade Organization to Australia’s plain pack bills. Financial Times 29/4/12

High Court considers plain packs verdict

April 2012: High Court hearings in the constitutional challenge by tobacco companies against Australia’s plain packaging legislation. Court now considers verdict. Transcripts of pre-hearing submissions and hearings here – see especially Feb and April under BAT, Philip Morris, ITA, JTA.

Company wants compensation for reduced death and disease

Cigarette company hypocrisy.April 2012: A tobacco company suing Australian government over plain packaging, Japan Tobacco International, tells High Court in pre-hearing submission if mandatory plain packs lead to reduced health costs, government should compensate JTI for this benefit of “acquiring” brands.

Government submission takes on Plain Pack Attack

April 2012: Australian Government lodges plain packaging submission to High Court for hearings from April 17. Tobacco giants are challenging legislation to take full effect December 1. Government says it is restricting, not “acquiring” tobacco trademarks as claimed by companies.

Honduras joins Ukraine in WTO complaint

April 2012: Honduras complains to World Trade Organization, claiming (along with Ukraine – see below) that Australia’s plain pack laws violate global intellectual property rules. Bloomberg news 4/4/12

Ukraine complains but Australia “ready to defend any challenge”

March 2012: Ukraine complains to World Trade Organization, claiming Australia’s plain pack laws violate global intellectual property rules. But Australia “prepared to defend any challenge” to its landmark legislation, says Trade Minister. Bloomberg/SMH 15/3/12Ukraine has not traded with Australia since 2005. Analysis of Ukraine’s complaint by legal expert Benn McGrady at O’Neill Institute trade blog 20/3/12 See above, News April 2012 for source of funding for this challenge – surprise surprise!

Leaked briefing recommends Philip Morris should encourage WTO complaint

March 2012: Leaked security briefing to Philip Morris from Wells Fargo Security, Dec 2011 says:

Aside from claiming violation under the Hong Kong Bilateral Treaty, there are two additional legal avenues PM can pursue: (1) initiating legal action in Australia’s domestic courts…. under the grounds that the plain packaging law is unconstitutional and/or 2) urging a country or countries that trade with Australia to file a WTO action claim arguing that the plain packaging law would put Australia’s trade partners at a disadvantage (this is not an action that PM can initiate).

Wells Fargo Security briefing Dec 2011, obtained by ASH Australia March 2012

Tobacco companies deny health evidence in plain packs case

March 2012: Australia’s major tobacco companies “denied the content” of “barrow loads” of health evidence on tobacco harm in lead-up to plain packs High Court challenge. Presenting documents, they either argue health evidence is in dispute or irrelevant to their constitutional case.

Non-cigarette plain packs regulations released

March 2012: Australian Government releases amendments to Plain Packs regulations, extending them to non-tobacco products like “rollie” and cigars. ASH and other health groups made input into this consultation. Regulations here.

Study confirms wisdom of standardising stick design

March 2012: New Australia plain pack laws will also standardise cigarette stick design – wise move, confirmed by Australian research showing this is a factor in brand appeal. Authors conclude “comprehensive policy… needs to include rules about stick design.” Abstract

Lower house passes landmark bills

August 2011: Australia’s House of Representatives passes both Tobacco Plain Packaging bills. All parties and independents supported the main bill; the Liberal/National parties opposed the Trade Marks bill, which was referred to a Senate inquiry. House of Reps Hansard proof 24/8/11 – pp. 22-99 with voting at pp. 98-99. The Plain Packs bill was supported unanimously. A Liberal amendment to allow some trademarks on smaller surfaces was defeated, and the Trade Marks Bill supported, in both cases by majorities of 5 – the ALP, Greens, independents Oakeshott, Wilkie and Windsor, and Independent WA National Crook all combining to defeat the Liberal/National Parties; Independent Katter not present or abstaining.

Leading Australians back plain packs

August 2011: 260 health and medical professors including four Australians of the Year write to Federal MPs urging them to end the long delay and pass the plain packaging bills.

Australian Background

Health Minister Roxon and then-PM Rudd announce the plain pack commitment.

Health Minister Roxon and then-PM Rudd announce the plain pack commitment, 29/4/10

After a recommendation from the 2009 report of Australia’s National Preventative Health Taskforce, on April 29, 2010 the Australian government announced plain packaging of tobacco products would be fully implemented by July 2012. Australia was the first country in the world to set a deadline. ASH Australia and others hailed the decision as a major step in the fight against tobacco.

In the leadup to Australia’s 2010 federal elections, the three major tobacco companies (BAT, Philip Morris, Imperial) poured $5m into a misleading mass media ad campaign against plain packs, fronted by hastily-formed “Australian Alliance of Retailers” (AAR). Six Australians of the Year condemned the campaign, urged all parties to honour July 2012 deadline commitment. ALP and Greens reaffirmed support; Liberal/National parties agreed to “consider” it.