Australia to send smokers a plain message
Apr 7, 2011, 5:03 GMT
Sydney - Tobacco companies threatened legal action Thursday after the Australian government revealed a world-first anti-smoking initiative in which brand imagery would be banished from cigarette packets.
British American Tobacco Australia spokesman Scott McIntyre said banning logos and forcing products into identical olive-green packaging would infringe copyright and invite court action to defend trademarks.
'The government could end up wasting millions of taxpayers' dollars in legal fees trying to defend their decision, let alone the potential to pay billions to the tobacco industry for taking away our intellectual property,' he said.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon dismissed the possibility of court challenges.
'We believe we're on very strong legal grounds,' she said. 'We're not going to have 'big tobacco' scaring us with legal action.'
Roxon said the new rules, which need parliamentary approval, would take effect in January.
'We want to make sure that the glamour that might have been attached to smoking in the past is dead and gone,' she said. 'Cigarette packs will now only show the death and disease that can come from smoking.'
Australia passed its first anti-smoking law a century ago and has one of the world's lowest levels of smoking. Around 16 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women are regular smokers, compared with 40 per cent and 32 per cent, respectively, in 1983.
All forms of tobacco advertising are banned. In some jurisdictions, it is illegal to smoke on the beach, in open-air cafes and in private cars if there are children on board.
The World Health Organization had urged the government to mandate plain packaging because it increases the effectiveness of health warnings on packets.
'Australia is the first signatory and the first country in the world to commit to implementing these recommendations on plain packaging, and we're proud of it,' Roxon said.
In a post on the website of national broadcaster ABC, a writer complained that the new rules would infringe on a personal freedom. 'Maybe we should license all those who drink alcohol in unhealthy volumes as well? Or those who ride motorbikes? Or those who go skydiving or rock climbing as a hobby?' the blogger wrote.
But another posting praised the government for its stance, arguing that plain packaging was merited.
'If it wasn't a deterrent, then the cigarette companies wouldn't spend millions fighting it,' the blogger said. 'Everyone knows that you use the look and feel of your produce to increase sales (just ask Apple). Prettier products tend to sell more. It's not the only factor of course, but it definitely has an effect.'
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