Australia is World’s First to Require Plain Cigarette Packs

(December 4, 2012)

Health warnings remain primary focus of packaging

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On Dec 1, Australia took another major step in the fight against Big Tobacco, by requiring that all cigarettes be sold in plain packaging, free of colorful logos and other branding. Cigarette packs will now bear only the brand name and large, explicitly graphic health warnings, which cover 75 percent of the front and 90 percent of the back of the pack.

In August, Australia’s highest court rejected a challenge to the plain packaging law by the tobacco industry, applying the law to all cigarettes manufactured in Australia since October 1, and all cigarettes sold in Australia starting December 1, 2012.

The plain packs and graphic health warnings are intended to prevent youth from smoking and encouraging smokers to quit. "If we can prevent young people from taking it up, that’s a lifetime gift to them. And if we can help people who’ve been addicted for some time ... then I think we’ll see a big difference in our smoking rates over coming years," said Tanya Plibersek, Australia’s Federal Health Minister. Smoking rates in Australia could drop from 15 to 10 per cent within six years due to plain packaging, Plibersek has said.

Tobacco companies have used a plethora of tactics to circumvent the law, including watermarking the cigarette paper and inserting apparent travel destinations codes (i.e., LDN, NYC, AUS or OZ) in the batch coding on cigarettes.  According to the Australian News, Plibersek has acted quickly to stop violations. She forced two big companies — Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco (BAT) — to remove the watermarking and told BAT to stop inserting the travel destination references, which she said were designed to make smokers think of the “glamour of travel. There is a clear set of rules about what is allowed and if we start allowing variations, then the tobacco companies will push the boundaries,” she said.

“In some important ways, Australia is setting the pace in anti-tobacco efforts,” said Harold Wimmer, President and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest. “We can all be encouraged and excited about the progress they’re making as we continue our work to help smokers quit and educate young people so they never start.”

For more information on tobacco cessation, contact the American Lung Association Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNG-USA  (1-800-586-4872).