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Australians of the Year stand up for plain packaging of cigarettes

Prominent Australians of the Year have joined forces to sign an open letter calling on “all political parties” (IE read the Federal Opposition) to commit to supporting plain packaging of cigarettes.

Their letter follows a tobacco-industry funded campaign against the Federal Government’s plans to introduce plain packaging (which was was one of a raft of tobacco control measures recommended by the National Preventative Health Taskforce).

Presumably, journalists will be asking questions about this issue at the National Press Club debate today between Health Minister Nicola Roxon and her counterpart Peter Dutton. Perhaps they will also ask whether there is any truth to the rumour, mentioned in Crikey this week, that the tobacco industry has shelved its full-page advertisements, for the time being anyway, after pressure from the Opposition.

Professor Simon Chapman from the University of Sydney, who co-authored a major review of the evidence on plain packaging with Becky Freeman, said: “I do not recall any health issue where all medical Australians of the Year have come together to urge political action like this. If Australia proceeds with this policy, it will domino around the world in the next few years and completely change the way that cigarettes are sold for ever. This is an historic moment.”

Open Letter from Six Australians of the Year

Prescription drugs which save lives and promote health are stored in dispensaries and sold in plain packs with only the drug name and dosage information. Tobacco products, which kill 15,000 Australians each year, are sold in attractive boxes designed to maximise their appeal, particularly to young smokers.

Legislation for plain tobacco packaging removes one of the tobacco industry’s last remaining means to promote their products in appealing ways. This measure is recommended by health authorities as a key part of our national tobacco control program to accelerate the decline in smoking and save many lives.

The tobacco industry’s current campaign shows how effective they believe plain packaging will be at reducing tobacco consumption.

They are also concerned that this ground-breaking political action will lead to similar legislation in other countries which have historically looked to us for leadership in reducing tobacco use.  Over time, global plain packaging could save millions of lives.

Smoking has declined from nearly 70% of men and 30% of women in the early 1960s to less than 17% today. Tobacco manufacturers’ and retailers’ interests in maintaining high smoking levels to maximise sales have thus been very properly subordinated to concerns to promote community health.

We condemn the tobacco industry’s cynical campaign and call on all political parties to commit themselves unequivocally to supporting legislation on plain packaging as part of a comprehensive approach to reducing the devastating toll of death and disease caused by smoking.

Professors Peter Doherty (Australian of the Year 1997), Sir Gustav Nossal (Australian of the Year 2000), Fiona Stanley (Australian of the Year 2003), Fiona Wood (Australian of the Year 2005), Ian Frazer (Australian of the Year 2006), Patrick McGorry (Australian of the Year 2010)
11 August 2010

Update: According to this report in the Daily Telegraph: Coles, through its subsidiary Coles Express, forced one of the key groups in the tobacco industry funded alliance, the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, to withdraw from it.

Being associated with Big Tobacco is not only a bad look for political parties….

Comments 9

  1. John64 says:

    I have an idea, why don’t we have monkeys behind the counters in supermarkets that throw faeces at smokers when they come in to buy cigarettes. Then make it lawful for pedestrians to spit on smokers as they pass them in the street, clustered and smoking outside of buildings.

    I mean come on, how many smokers really smoke because of the “sexy” and “attractive” packaging – that already has a dead baby or gaping wound warning you that smoking while pregnant may harm your baby taking up half of the box now anyway?

  2. Shooba says:

    John64, you seem to have fallen victim to the misdirection of the tobacco campaign. This is not a measure targeting current smokers. It is a measure designed to (and likely to) reduce UPTAKE of smoking amongst young people.

    ie The next generation of smokers.

    The graphic picutres you describe have proven effective at getting people to quit. The plain packaging is to discourage people from ever taking up the habit.

    It’s actually a worry – there won’t be solid results to be gleaned from this measure for years to come. It might be fantastically effective, but for a few years it will be “we think it’s working… we think it’s working…”

    No doubt tobacco will seize on this and try and raise the issue again in twelve months. Hopefully our federal government in twelve months, whatever political colour it may be, is able to stand up to the tobacco giants. This, of course, is a worrying prosepect.

  3. I’m sure the Australians of the year are worthy and well meaning. However, I imagine the target audience would be eleven year olds and upwards. Surely these names would be unknown to kids of this age.

    If these names are unfamiliar to the average Oz today, how will they be effective for the smokers of tomorrow?

    Couldn’t anyone find enough footy stars?

    It’s fascinating to see how tenuous the cigarette companies believe the hold of a brand name is.

  4. urbancynic says:

    Simon Chapman would say that having collared the 6 ‘Australians of the year’ and being on Nicola Roxon’s payroll with an NHMRC grant of nearly $2 million ‘to improve media literacy’. Oh, nearly forgot – he’s also on Nicola’s NPHT tobacco working group. But you would never see Chapman nominate for election. Unelected and unaccountable, but still on the public payroll, is much more luxurious than actually putting your neck on the line. And as reported in the MJA, Chapman says talking in the media about research is more important than the research. What an expensive fraud he is perpetrating on Australia’s taxpayers.

  5. simon.chapman says:

    Urbancynic, now what is it that makes me feel certain that you might be a tobacco industry stooge? The bravery of your anonymity? — a bit like cockroaches (both spread disease and don’t like the glare of sunlight); your illiteracy about government process? (that researchers who win competitive NHMRC grants assessed by expert referees and a judged by a panel of 12 researchers with no competing interests, are therefore on “Nicola Roxon’s payroll” (ummm.. how would you then explain all the NHMRC grants I had under the Howard government?); the fascinating illogicality of discrediting the views of anyone “unelected” while not making the same point about the tobacco industry and its errand boys in the rapidly disintegrating retail “Alliance”; and flagrant misrepresentation of what I said in the MJA piece.

  6. dynamco@netvigator.com says:

    read what the tobacco companies really think about their ‘silent salesman’ (to children)
    http://www.smokefreeaction.org.uk/plain-packaging.html

    Tobacco packaging as advertising:
    “It is the communication life-blood of the firm… the silent salesman” (3)
    “It is a promotional tool in its own right” (4)
    “It is a total opportunity for communications¦ a carefully planned brand or information communications campaign” (5)
    “In this struggle to win over smokers, the pack and its messages have become increasingly important weapons.” (6)
    (3) Underwood R L, Ozanne J. Is your package an effective communicator? A normative framework for increasing the communicative competence of packaging. J Market Commun 1998: 4: 207-20
    (4) Palmer A. The product, Principles of Marketing, Oxford University Press, 2000
    (5) Mawditt N. Putting pack opportunities into the frame. World Tobacco. 2006: 212: 36-7
    (6) Staff Report. Rethinking cigarette packs for a new age. Tobacco Int 1991 Mar 1: 14

    What industry analysts say about plain packaging:
    “regulations… have to date neither undermined industry profitability nor led to commoditization of the cigarette category. However, a ban on conventional packaging graphics could prove to be a very different matter.”(21)
    “Plain packaging would significantly reduce the power of tobacco brands.” “The industry is so profitable only because consumers are willing to pay a premium of £1.50 for certain brands. We think this measure would cause a rapid worsening of the downtrading trend. Over time this would hurt profitability significantly.”(22)
    “Clearly, smokers won’t like it. However, I suspect that the majority of the population that does not smoke will be in favour of the proposal. Anything which boosts the public health is good.”(23)
    (21) Plain packaging is a serious threat but quite unlikely. Morgan Stanley, 2008
    (22) Material new risk appears: UK Govt. suggests plain packaging. Citigroup, 2008
    (23) Spielman A. Little hope in appealing to natural justice. Tobacco Journal International, September 2008

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Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
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Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
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Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
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2014 conferences
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AIDA Conference 2014
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National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
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Population Health Congress 2015
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