Big Tobacco Fights Plain Packaging in Australia

You have to admire the guts of the Australian government, which has passed legislation requiring that cigarettes be sold in uniform brown wrappers beginning in 2012. Colorful branding and design elements will be eliminated in favor of graphic health warnings; cigarette brand names will appear in black type.

For a quick glance at what the packaging might look like, check out Jim Gogek?s recent post on his alcohol, tobacco and other drugs blog. According to Gogek, tobacco companies are fighting the Australian government?s plan, and they have hired a public relations firm to help them do it.

A recent series of ads aired on Australian television against plain packaging. The ads were apparently authorized by the Alliance of Australian Retailers. Leaked documents showed that Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco Australia, and British American Tobacco contributed $5.4 million to the alliance and planned to spend another $4 million on the PR campaign, The Age reported Sept. 12.

The companies may even spend more; the same paper reported Aug. 4 that there was ?no finite budget? for the campaign. The Alliance of Australian Retailers also plans to lobby the Australian government to overturn the legislation.

?There is no credible evidence plain packaging will stop people smoking or prevent young people taking up smoking,’’ said Sheryle Moon, who directs the alliance. Yet Gogek’s post linked to relevant research on plain packaging on the website of Smokefree Action, a coalition that favors stricter tobacco control in the United Kingdom.

If the Australian government prevails, it will be the first country in the world to insist on plain packaging.

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