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Australia introduce plain cigarette packs: But will it happen here?

Smokers in Australia will now be faced with the grim reality of the effects of smoking, as the government introduced the world’s first unbranded cigarette packs. The advertising on typical packets of cigarettes has been replaced with health warnings and graphic pictures of the effects that smoking can have on the body.

Instead of bright brand logos, all cigarette packs will now sport the same standard colours of green and brown, and come with an array of anti smoking messages.

Brands are allowed to print their company name on the packs, but only in small letters at the bottom of the packet. Australia’s Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said: “This is the last gasp of a dying industry,” whilst Anne Jones of the anti-smoking group ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) concurred: “Plain packaging has taken the personality away from the pack,” she added: “Once you take away all the colour coding and imagery and everything is standardised with massive health warnings, you really do de-glamorise the product.”

The humble cigarette packet was literally the last bastion left for tobacco companies to be able to advertise themselves, as commercials on Australian television and radio were banned in 1976 and newspaper advertising followed in 1989.

Then withdrawal of sponsorship from sporting and cultural events occured in 1992, which left only the packets. However tobacco companies are arguing that by simply removing branding from packets will not stop people from smoking.

A spokesman for British and American Tobacco (BAT), Scott McIntyre, says: “Plain packaging has always been misleading and won’t stop smoking because branded cigarettes will be smuggled in and because tobacco companies will have to respond to that by cutting prices to stay competitive.”

It was extensive research however, that was reviewed by the Cancer Council Australia back in May 2011, that suggested the packaging plays an important part in encouraging young people to try cigarettes, and convinced the Australian government to finally take action.

In the research was a video that showed children discussing existing cigarette packets. One boy says the red on one packet reminds him of his favourite car, a girl admires the pink on another packet, while another boy talks about the “heavenly” colours on his box.

Tobacco companies hit back at the new legislative policies and tried to overturn the decision by claiming that the government was trying to “acquire” their intellectual property rights by removing logos. They failed and from today, all cigarettes are now packaged in plain packs.

So will the UK follow suit? Earlier this year the UK banned stores from displaying cigarettes in an attempt to help prevent people starting to smoke, and it is thought that many EU countries are watching Australia to see how this new legislation pans out.

However, this is not the end of the story, as Scott McIntyre of BAT argues that the only reason the Australian government won because of the peculiarities of Australian constitutional law.

This could mean further action from tobacco companies. Anne Jones of ASH is not worried: “We don’t fear that,” she says. “Plain packaging is here to stay in Australia. We now plan to go after the ingredients contained in cigarettes.”

Source: BBC News, Sydney

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