Plain Packaging in Australia: A Global Role Model for Smoking Prevention

Cara Bradley | Steinhardt 2014

Sydney, Australia
March 2013

A photograph of a decaying lung appears below the bold phrase “Smoking causes lung cancer.” Graphic and often gruesome images like this are the norm for cigarette packages in Australia due to the recent introduction of a monumental health policy. Australia became the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging for cigarettes with the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, which officially went into effect on December 1, 2012. The policy requires all cigarettes to be sold in generic packages characterized by prominent health warnings with corresponding images in place of company logos. While this may be viewed as an aggressive policy to curtail the tobacco industry’s marketing and branding, these actions could decrease smoking and tobacco-related disease rates and ultimately improve the nation’s health. By standardizing cigarette labeling, the government hopes to reduce smoking by making health warnings more noticeable and impactful, preventing misleading packaging that leads consumers to believe a product is less harmful than another, as well as decreasing the attractiveness of cigarettes. The Preventative Health Taskforce of Australia’s Department of Health and Ageing cites evidence from research that supports these claims. 1
Even though the Australian government has been implementing broad initiatives to prevent tobacco use, Australia has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world, with 15.1% of adults over age 14 smoking daily. [2] While smoking rates remain stable but critical among the general population, indigenous Australians remain a high-risk group. The daily smoking rate among Aboriginal Australians is estimated to be 47.7% of the population. With education-focused interventions to complement these policy actions, smoking rates could decrease significantly in the coming years. [3]

While the public health community has praised the new policies, the tobacco industry has vehemently protested the actions, arguing that plain packaging unlawfully acquires brand names without compensating the tobacco companies. Two countries, Honduras and the Ukraine, have also lodged complaints to the World Trade Organization (WTO) citing violation of intellectual property rights. However, Trade Minister Craig Emerson affirmed that “The measure is not anti- trade; it is anti-cancer.” [4]
Since plain packaging has been in effect for only a few months, further research will be necessary to determine if this policy can be successful in reducing smoking rates as well as tobacco-related disease in Australia. Despite undetermined efficacy, the plain packaging mandate acts as a critical and monumental event for international health. New Zealand recently announced plans to require plain packaging and several other countries are considering the move towards generic cigarette packaging. In Australia, public health has triumphed as the government prioritizes its nation’s safety and well-being over the corporate power of the tobacco industry.

1 “Plain packaging of tobacco products.” 15 March 2012. Department of Health and Ageing. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/ Content/tobacco-plain. Accessed 16 March 2013.

2 “Tobacco control.” Department of Health and Ageing. 13 March 2013. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/tobacco. Accessed 16 March.

3 “Statistics on smoking in Australia.” Cancer Council NSW. http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/31901/reduce-risks/smoking-reduce- risks/tobacco-facts/statistics-on-smoking-in-australia/?pp=31901.    Accessed 16 March 2013.

4 Vasek, Lanai. “Australia’s landmark tobacco packaging laws face world trade    challenge.”    The    Australian.    6    April    2012. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/australias-landmark-tobacco- packaging-laws-face-world-trade-challenge/story-fn59niix-1226320500047. Accessed 16 March 2013.

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