Are Australia’s Tobacco Shock Tactics Going Too Far?


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.”[more]

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.