Benefits of Australian cigarette packs law are plain to see

10 Nov 2011 12:15 PM

In the early hours of the morning UK-time, the Australian Senate voted to introduce plain tobacco packaging. This will make Australia the first country in the world to introduce such legislation.

From December next year it’ll mean that all the distinctive, brightly coloured, packaging that cigarettes traditionally come in will be replaced with a dark olive brown, with health warnings covering the vast majority of the pack.

The new law aims to reduce the attractiveness of cigarettes, particularly to young people. Research has shown that removing branding has an immediate impact, with young people finding cigarettes less appealing. This is particularly important when you consider that two-thirds of current smokers started smoking before they were 18.

The dark olive brown colour was chosen after it was found to be the least appealing to people. The uniform colour will also make health warnings stand out more, and reduce the ability of packaging to mislead consumers about smoking health harms.

But will it really make a difference? Well the tobacco industry clearly thinks so. That’s why they’ve been fighting these proposals tooth and nail running TV adverts in Australia urging a ‘no vote’.

"The dark olive brown colour was chosen after it was found to be the least appealing to people".

We’ve also recently seen, in the UK, the launch of designer cigarette brands in highly distinctive packaging. As you can no longer advertise cigarettes, that packaging – as it sits on the shelf behind the shop counter – is a key way to attract new customers. It’s why packaging is often referred to as the ‘silent salesman’.

The reason I’ve been following these developments so closely is that we hope to see something similar in the UK. Earlier this year the Coalition Government in its Tobacco Control Plan said that it would consider introducing plain packaging as part of its commitment to reduce the promotional aspects of packaging. The Coalition Government has said that it would hold a public consultation on the issue before the end of this year. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this to make sure this promise is kept.

The UN met in September to look at how best to prevent non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, and Australian Health Minister Nicola Roxon encouraged other nations to follow Australia’s lead. We would never pretend that plain packaging is a magic bullet that’ll stop all people from smoking. But as part of a wider plan it can make a really important contribution to reducing the harm that tobacco inflicts on smokers, and reduce the number of smokers over the long-term.