With Australia’s recent High Court decision upholding the so-called plain packaging tobacco law, anti-smoking advocates in Canada are hoping this country will introduce similar legislation.
Australia’s new law requires tobacco product packages to be a drab olive green colour displaying graphic health warnings and without any logos or other branding. Brand names can only be placed in a standardized font, size, and position.
Global tobacco companies challenged the legislation claiming it was unconstitutional, but the Australian High Court rejected the challenge last week. The law will go into effect in December.
“This judgement that we’ve seen in Australia is historic; it’s extremely important. It’ll help Canada move forward,” says Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society.
There is no reason why an addictive, poisonous product should be allowed to be sold in attractive packages.
— Rob Cunningham, Canadian Cancer Society.
“The brand and the package are at the core of the tobacco industry marketing, and there is no reason why an addictive, poisonous product should be allowed to be sold in attractive packages.”
World Health Organization director general Dr. Margaret Chan commended the court’s decision and asked that the rest of the world follow Australia’s example.
New Zealand announced last July that it is considering introducing plain packaging legislation after conducting a consultation process, and the U.K. has also indicated that it is looking into the effectiveness of the law.
According to the Australian government, countries including Norway, Uruguay, E.U., France, South Africa, and China are also closely watching Australia’s actions on the plain packaging legislation.
“The message to the rest of the world is big tobacco can be taken on and beaten. Without brave governments willing to take the fight up to big tobacco, they’d still have us believing that tobacco is neither harmful nor addictive,” Australian health minister Tanya Plibersek said in a statement.
In an emailed response, Health Canada spokesperson Olivia Caron said the department is not planning any regulatory action to require plain packaging at this point.
“Health Canada continues to review available research on plain packaging as a form of tobacco control and closely monitors plain packaging proposals put forward in other countries, such as Australia,” she said.
No Proof, says Imperial
Imperial Tobacco Canada, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco, one of the companies challenging the Australian legislation, said in a statement last week that Australia’s new law “will have many unintended consequences for years to come.”
“We fully support any form of evidence-based regulation but there is no proof to suggest plain packaging of tobacco products will be effective in discouraging youth initiation or encouraging cessation by existing smokers,” Caroline Ferland, vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs with Imperial Tobacco Canada, said in a statement.
“In fact, plain packaging would only exacerbate an already significant illicit tobacco trafficking problem which brings with it many other significant adverse unintended consequences including making tobacco more accessible to youth.”
Cunningham says however that plain packaging is a separate issue from contraband and illicit tobacco trafficking.
“[Tobacco companies] often raised contraband as a way to oppose the federal Bill C-32 to ban cigarillos; they used that to oppose the health warnings that came in effect in June. So they will take whatever arguments they can find to oppose regulation,” he says.
“The fact is that there are available contraband prevention measures that have been implemented, and additional ones that can be implemented.”
According to Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, tobacco companies have focused their marketing efforts on packaging as laws and regulations limit how they can advertise their products.
“The packages are designed to create the impression that tobacco use is sexy, cool, normal, and socially acceptable,” the organization says in a report.
“In Canada, all federal and provincial governments have the constitutional authority to stop tobacco companies from using cigarette packaging to promote smoking and to deceive smokers about the harmfulness of their products,” the report adds, noting that plain packaging has been advised by WHO as well.
A call to Imperial Tobacco Canada seeking comment was not returned.
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