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Are Australia's Tobacco Shock Tactics Going Too Far?

Posted by Shirley Brady on April 8, 2011 05:30 PM

The Australian government's move to become the first country in the world to adopt plain packaging for cigarettes is naturally meeting resistance from the tobacco industry. Australia's prime minister Julia Gillard is backing legislation introduced yesterday by health minister Nicola Roxon that would mandate that cigarette packages sold in the country adopt a standard olive green, found in research to be the the most repulsive color to smokers.

But that's not all: the packages, assuming the legislation survives legal challenges by Big Tobacco, would also remove logos and branding, with the brand name in a standard font and size. Each package will bear a ghoulish graphic (such as a sickly eyeball) meant to shock and hopefully stop the prospective buyer, along with a related health warning in uppercase text, such as "SMOKING CAUSES BLINDNESS."

Presenting the legislation as "the world's toughest anti-smoking laws," Roxon said in a press release that the so-called "plain packs" are the latest step in the Government’s fight to reduce the toll on families from smoking-related deaths.

“The chilling facts are that smoking kills 15,000 Australians a year and costs our society $31.5 billion each year – helping people to give up smoking and minimising their chance of them starting are health priorities for the Government. This plain packaging legislation is a world first and sends a clear message that the glamour is gone – cigarette packs will now only show the death and disease that can come from smoking. The new packs have been designed to have the lowest appeal to smokers and to make clear the terrible effects that smoking can have on your health. The legislation will restrict tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text appearing on packs. The only thing to distinguish one brand from another will be the brand and product name in a standard colour, standard position and standard font size and style."

While Australian doctors may have welcomed the news, the tobacco industry is fuming. Two out of the three big tobacco companies (including British American Tobacco, which said it's "disappointed") are planning to sue the government to block the move. A leading trademark lawyer told the national ABC news program, Lateline, that their likelihood of winning in court is "nil."

The UK is also looking at plain packaging and forcing shop owners to hide cigarette packs from plain sight to deter sales. A recent study in England "found that non-smokers and light smokers paid more attention to health warnings on cigarette packs that lacked branding graphics than on packs that included brand logos."

What do you think: are these moves too extreme, punitive to brands and bordering on a nanny state, or necessary to help adults addicted to tobacco and discourage kids from picking up the habit? Join the debate.



Aporia Australia says:

I think this is a good idea. That ad campaign by the tobacco industry is laughable. It will work, and I admit, even for people like myself -- I am a light smoker and I always feel disgusted by the graphics -- it's enough of a reminder to put me off them.

April 8, 2011 07:02 PM #

Katie Australia says:

Personally, I hope it will pass. I'm not sure it will, but I think it's a very interesting proposal. There are no benefits to smoking; not to the user, their friends, family or society. For Australian's this is the next logical step, there's legislation about where you can smoke and already the images on the packs are huge and very gross. It will definitely stop young kids asking for "that light blue pack over there" and hopefully prevent smokers in the future. I hope anything that decreases the number of smokers in this world goes ahead.

April 11, 2011 02:25 AM #

Mike United States says:

I think it's a slippery slope and a case of government going too far.  A lifestyle choice that claims more lives than tobacco is unhealthy eating habits and physical activity.  So what's next, making people eat healthier and forcing them to excercise.  Then alcohol will be next on the list . . . could be heading towards prohibition again. You can't save people from themselves.  Put resources towards education, and let an enlightened population make their own choice.

April 11, 2011 10:38 AM #

Mike New Zealand says:

I agree with Mike (US). How long till someone starts selling attractive cardboard or plastic sleeves to place your pack inside as soon as you've bought it. Also check Martin Lindstrom's research on this topic - tracking brain impulses on exposure to images like this, he found that these approaches had no actual effect on smokers.
I've never smoked but believe the government should either make them illegal or stay out of it. I guess the tax take is too significant for the former to happen.

April 11, 2011 11:36 PM #

Elliott United States says:

Dumb. It may discourage new smokers, but you can forget about anyone in the grips of addiction. We've heard the stories of the old guy hooked up to oxygen and still smoking. If anything the boxes will develop a cult following and people will only smoke the pack with eyeball. Plus, I hate when the Gov. gets involved on stuff like this.

April 12, 2011 05:47 PM #

Ani Romania says:

This is not the way to go. I'm pretty sure it won't convince anyone out of cigarettes, if you're hooked that's it. They should stop pretending they're taking measures against it, if they really wanna stop this insanity they should just BAN them and that's it. It's embarrassing that Governments can be bought like this, and allow for such blatantly dangerous drugs to be legal...it's unbelievable..

Clearly banning them won't happen any time soon, so if they choose to only discourage people....I think it's more of a social issue, they should destroy somehow the image that smoking is cool/adult/fun/social, whatever it is that's driving people to take up this disgusting habit, but changing the packaging won't do it, it might even have the adverse effect....it will probably make smokers get even more fired up, fighting for their cause and creating some sort of solidarity against this "attack".

Choosing to smoke is clearly NOT a rational decision, so trying to bring rational counter arguments such as 'you'll die of cancer' etc. just don't work...it's like dealing with kids and the more you try to convince them that something's not good for them, they'll want it even more.
I also read Martin Lindstrom's book and I could add his discovery that tobacco companies don't even need logos anymore to advertise themselves.....they've already created such strong associations that just by putting up a billboard with purple silk on it will do the trick..I'm not a smoker and I know what they would be advertising! Governments have no idea what they're up against...clearly.  

April 14, 2011 12:16 PM #

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