Indonesia go to WTO to claim “intellectual property” trumps Australian public health laws on standardised packaging

Tuesday, 29 April 2014  at 11:30

While we await draft regulations on standardised packaging for tobacco products in this country, it is interesting to see the industry and their interests still battling against Australia’s world-leading decision to introduce them in December 2012.

Indonesia is the fifth country to claim that Australia’s decision to act to protect the health of their citizens is in breach of the rules of global commerce.

In coverage in Australia today, Tanya Plibersek, the deputy leader of the Labor party who brought in Standard Packs while in Government, is confident their laws will withstand the challenge. 

She told Sky News that: “[Indonesia’s] issue might be one of intellectual property and we’ve had plenty of legal advice to say we’re on strong grounds here.”

She added: “This is an important measure for people’s health and I’m proud of it.”

Tobacco companies continuing to make hay while the sun shines

Tuesday, 15 April 2014  at 14:35

  “The coming 14 months are absolutely critical for getting visibility for new products before we go dark [all retailers are banned from displaying tobacco products]. This is why at the end of last month we relaunched and redesigned the packaging…”. Scandinavian Tobacco Group Head of Marketing talking to Wholesale News in Feb 2014.

While we are very much encouraged by the Government response to the Chantler Review, there is still some way to go to make standardised packaging a reality.

The Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison, told Parliament that "Sir Cyril's report makes a compelling case, that if standardised packaging were introduced it would be very likely to have a positive impact on public health and that these health benefits would include health benefits for children."

We understand the Government will shortly publish draft regulations and run a six-week consultation, before bringing final regulations to Parliament with a view to mandating standardised packaging before the next election.

During that consultation process we anticipate strong lobbying by the tobacco industry. Sir Cyril Chantler described tobacco packaging as the industry’s “silent salesman” and they will most certainly want to keep their last branding outlet in place for as long as they can.

Despite the continuing momentum towards standardised packs based on public demand and compelling public health evidence, the tobacco industry continues to invest considerable efforts into innovation and fresh designs in packaging. There is no evidence of a pause while the future of packaging is debated, indeed their approach could be described as making hay while the sun shines.

Since the beginning of 2014, at least 8 brand new products or pack re-designs have been launched. The highly designed packaging, still visible in smaller shops and in the hands of smokers, continues to play a strong role in promoting smoking and advertising tobacco. That’s why so much effort goes into effective and eye-catching design.

The products on offer are also continuing to evolve: ‘Capsule’ cigarettes, which let smokers crush a small pellet in the filter to release a ‘shot’ of menthol flavour, are being marketed at particularly young women. There are also an increasing number of products being marketed as “Additive Free”, with the inference being that this tobacco is not as damaging for smokers.

Showing just how important the still-visible tobacco displays are in smaller shops, the overwhelming majority of packs in the mid-range and economy market segments now carry a brightly coloured price flash to grab the attention of browsing smokers, but inevitably of anyone in the family passing through their local shop.

The tobacco manufacturers and retailers are reporting that price is playing an increasingly major role in smokers’ choices, with brand loyalty becoming weaker as people wrestle with tighter budgets.

In order to attract the most budget-conscious customers, cigarettes are now being sold in packs of 19 instead of 20 to bring the number on the price-flash down, and in ever-decreasing pouch sizes for RYO tobacco – as light at 9g/pack instead of more traditional 18g or 25g.

  “Smooth Moves – JTI has extended its Sovereign brand with the creation of a value pricemarked cigarette, Sovereign Smooth Flavour. The new packs are available in King Size 10s and 19s, with pricemarked packs flashed at £3.39 and £6.28 respectively.” Convenience Store magazine 14 March 2014.

You can see just some of the new developments in packaging at Talking Retail and see what the tobacco manufacturers are saying about how they are marketing their products. What is clear is that unless the Government takes action on standard packaging, these “silent salesmen” will continue to be very noisy and catch the eye of increasing numbers of potential young smokers.

The Chantler Review - Almost there on standardised tobacco packs

Thursday, 3 April 2014  at 12:04

Last year the Government asked eminent doctor Sir Cyril Chantler to undertake an independent review to look at whether there is likely to be an effect on public health, particularly for children, if standardised tobacco packaging were to be introduced. 

That review has now been completed and passed to Government, who must now decide whether or not they will back plain standardised packaging for tobacco products.

The Chantler Review collected evidence from campaigners who want to see plain standardised packaging for all tobacco products in order to prevent particularly children and young people being attracted to start smoking. The Review also heard from public health experts and from the tobacco industry.

Throughout the Review process and while tobacco displays can remain visible in smaller shops, the tobacco companies are still investing heavily in new packaging and new products aimed at increasing smoking.

Whether or not we get plain standardised packaging in the UK is still not certain, but while the Government makes its final deliberations, the pressure from tobacco companies and their lobbyists is being ramped up.

The tobacco companies have recently published a number of reports and studies they have funded, using their own figures to suggest the introduction of plain packaging in Australia coincided with a rise in sales and an increase in the prevalence of illegal tobacco. This version of events has received media attention despite being effectively debunked by both cancer campaigners and Australia’s own Customs and Border Protection Service. 

Unravelling the truth behind the industry myths, the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia reported last month that:

Executives of British American Tobacco last week boasted to investors that plain packaging had increased illegal tobacco smuggling by about a third but had no impact on consumption trends. It said plain packaging was easier to counterfeit, causing the smuggling boom.

In fact, despite the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service increasing its capture of illegal tobacco, only one haul of "plain packaged" illegal cigarettes has been found. 

The illicit "plain packaged" cigarettes from China likely represent fewer than 4 per cent of all cigarettes captured since plain packaging began, a Fairfax Media analysis has found.

Mike Daube, a professor of health policy at Curtin University, said tobacco companies were "tripping over their own misinformation". "This official information from Customs deals a death blow to the tobacco industry's biggest scare campaign," he said. "These companies have been running huge media and lobbying programs … Now we know the truth."

A Customs and Border Protection Service spokeswoman said plain packaging simply did not appear to have an effect on smugglers. "Since the introduction of plain packaging requirements the [service] has made numerous detections of illicit tobacco but only one detection has involved plain packaged illicit tobacco," she said.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tobacco-industry-claims-on-impact-of-plain-packaging-go-up-in-smoke-20140311-34kfc.html#ixzz2xFerOWta

In the UK, stories are beginning to appear that tell the tobacco industry’s version of the Australian experience, but there are also opinion pieces (like this one: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10724498/Theres-a-quiet-rebellion-under-way-against-bossy-government.html) being published that claim to introduce plain standardised packaging is an assault on smokers human rights.

By contrast, the international movement by public health bodies to bring in standardised plain packaging for tobacco is about protecting children from being attracted to take up smoking. Independent, peer reviewed evidence has shown the harmful effects of smoking for decades. Despite the protestations from the tobacco industry it is clear that if package design is there to attract smokers and smoking causes half of all smokers to die early, there is a strong case to remove that attraction and to reduce smoking and the devastating impact it has on people’s lives. 

The damage caused by smoking takes time to be felt in health terms, but the risk to health increases with every cigarette smoked. The real benefits of plain standardised packaging will be felt in the years to come, through better health for more people who don’t start smoking as young people. 

* This number reflects the total amount of people who have signed up to support the plain packaging of tobacco products, via the Plain Packs Protect Partnership (logos below), British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK websites.
Supporters Smoke Free South West Ulster Cancer Foundation ash Ash Scotland Ash Wales British Heart Foundation Cancer Research UK Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Cut Films Faculty of Public Health Fresh Smoke Free North East National Heart Forum NCSCT BTS - Stop Smoking Champions The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation Royal College of Physicians TCC Tobacco Free Future Trading Standards Partnership South West Smoke Free Lincs - Promoting a tobacco free life