24th Aug 2012 1:43pm | By Carol Driver
Court ruling paves the way for new packaging. But will graphic images put you off?
It’s been hailed a tremendous victory for non-smokers around the world. Last week, Australia’s High Court dismissed a challenge by big tobacco companies to government plans to change cigarette packaging.
It means, as of December 1, Australia will become the first country in the world to require packets to be unglamorous, with plain-olive colouring, featuring shock-factor graphic health warnings and no logos.
Britain, New Zealand and South Africa are now considering similar measures.
British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco Australia are the companies that were fighting the decision, and will have to pay the Commonwealth’s legal costs, which could run into millions.
The High Court rejected their argument that the value of their trademarks will be destroyed if they are no longer able to display their distinctive colours, brand designs and logos on packs of cigarettes.
“Many other countries around the world ... will take heart from the success of this decision today,” said attorney-general Nicola Roxon, whose father, a smoker, died of cancer when she was 10.
“Governments can take on big tobacco and win and it’s worth countries looking again at what the next appropriate step is for them.”
Roxon urged big tobacco to now “accept the decision of the umpire” and drop international efforts to curb plain packaging. “This [victory] will only improve the government’s ability to defend strongly any actions that are taken in international forums,” she said.
And Australia’s health minister, Tanya Plibersek, followed suit, dedicating the court victory to big tobacco’s victims. “For anyone who has lost someone to smoking – this one’s for you,” she said.
Many see the move as another step towards banning smoking in all public places – although with smokers accounting for 17 per cent of the population in Australia, and high taxes of $16 (£10) for a pack of 25 cigarettes, the question has been raised as to how the government would replace that income.
Australia has already outlawed smoking in restaurants and bars. And this week, New South Wales passed laws extending that to playgrounds, sports grounds, swimming pool as well as bus and train stations.
But, while non-smokers celebrate, claiming it will save lives and prevent younger generations from picking up packs of ciggies in the first pace, pro-smoking groups say the new packaging, which will show images of cancer-riddled mouths, blinded eyeballs and sick children in hospital beds, won’t make any difference to sales.
Simon Clark, director of pro-smoking group Forest, which runs the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, said: “We support all reasonable attempts to discourage children from smoking, but putting cigarettes in plain packs is pointless.
“There is no evidence to support the claim that plain packaging will prevent children from taking up smoking.
“Putting cigarettes in standardised packs is tantamount to state-sponsored bullying. It is yet another attempt to denormalise a legal product and stigmatise those who consume it.”
Clark also urged the UK government not to follow the example set by Australia. “Over 235,000 people have signed the Hands Off Our Packs petition against plain packaging,” he added.
“There is also opposition from retailers and shop workers, plus serving and retired police officers, who are concerned about counterfeiting and the sale of illicit tobacco, which plain packaging is likely to encourage.”
The High Court ruling comes after a survey revealed just 28 per cent of people believe plain packaging will deter young people from smoking.
Usurv quizzed 1000 people (36 per cent of which were smokers) in the UK, with 85 per cent saying it wouldn’t help smokers to kick the habit.