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One puff less
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 18 - 08 - 2012

Australia's high court decision to uphold the plain packaging act, which says that tobacco products must be in plain packaging without logos and bear graphic health warnings, is a message to the rest of the world that big tobacco companies can be taken on and beaten. It means that governments are pretty much free to do what they feel is necessary to protect their populations from cigarette smoking. Australia is the first nation in the world to require plain packaging for tobacco. Starting in December, packs will come in a uniform shade of olive and feature graphic health warnings and images of what atrocities cancer can do to mouths, blind eyeballs and sickly children. The government hopes the new packs will make smoking as unglamorous as possible.
Australia's new tough packaging laws are the first of their kind to be implemented in the world. Whilst Australia might be a relatively small cigarette market, tobacco companies know that the court loss Down Under could lead to a deluge of legislation elsewhere in their really big markets. As a result, the case between the government and the cigarette makers is being watched closely all across the globe.
The world's giant tobacco companies are predictably fighting back. They are worried that the law will set a global precedent that could slash billions of dollars from the values of their brands. They argue the value of their trademarks will be destroyed if they are no longer able to display their distinctive colors, brand designs and logos on cigarette packs. They say the Australian government would unfairly benefit from the law by using cigarette packs as a platform to promote its own message, without compensating the tobacco companies. Opponents of the law state the policy will actually increase smoking rates particularly in young people who'll have greater access to cheap illegal cigarettes which are even more hazardous than the real thing. The illegal cigarette black market will grow further when all packs look the same and are easier to copy.
And where does it end? What about fatty foods, sugary drinks, and sweets? Shouldn't they be sold in plain packaging and unbranded? It's dicey when consumer choice is curtailed and businesses restricted. But where does it end? According to the World Health Organization, tobacco kills nearly six million people a year, 10 percent of them from secondhand smoke exposure.
The WHO says the death toll could rise to more than eight million a year by 2030 without urgent action.
A14-nation study last year reported that graphic health warnings on cigarette packages led a “substantial” number of smokers to consider quitting. Yet we know a smoker's going to smoke regardless of what the package says. Despite the Australian campaign, smokers account for a relatively high 17 percent of Australia's population.
We can assume that smokers generally understand the health consequences of smoking. But this assessment is many times based on the claims of tobacco companies that tobacco is neither harmful nor addictive. This is where brave governments, willing to take the fight up to big tobacco, step in.


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