A decade after plain packaging, what is the result?


Today, 20 countries, including the UK, Turkey, France, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ukraine, have adopted their own plain packaging legislation.

Thousands of Australians still die from smoking-related illnesses each year, but smoking rates have continued to decline. Data from the National Anti-Drug Strategy Household Survey estimated that about 11.6% of adults smoked daily, up from 12.8% in 2016 and more than half of the 25% who smoked in 1991.

Plain packaging was not the only reform introduced to help lower the rate. Tobacco taxes were increased by 25% in 2010 and then increased by 12.5% ​​each year from 2013 to 2020.

These increases made tobacco excise the fourth-largest individual tax collected by the federal government, worth an estimated $ 15 billion last year.

While other factors, including banning smoking in certain areas, also helped, Professor Melanie Wakefield, who heads the Cancer Council of Victoria’s Behavioral Research Center and was also part of the government advisory group on implementation of plain packaging, said plain packaging has a measurable impact.

“Plain packaging accounted for about a quarter of the total decrease in smoking prevalence in three years after plain packaging. As a result, Australia had about 100,000 fewer smokers, ”she says.

Importantly, she says, it has also had an impact on smoking rates among young people.

“In the last national survey, only 5% of high school students smoked in the past week, which is a drop of one-third from before plain packaging.

The law was passed in December 2011, and from December 2012 all cigarettes and tobacco products were required to be sold in plain packaging, making Pantone 448C the only color of choice for the tobacco industry in Australia. .


But it didn’t come true without a fight. The tobacco companies fought against what they and libertarians claimed was a “nanny state” going too far.

British American Tobacco Australia has waged a nationwide media campaign against it, arguing that it would increase smoking rates by encouraging illegally imported and cheaper products.

“Why should Australians potentially have to pay a huge bill for experimental legislation that has not been passed anywhere else in the world? Said CEO David Crow in May 2011.

Another argument was that mandatory plain packaging violated trademark laws and intellectual property rights.

Tim Wilson, who was head of the IPA at the time of the plain packaging legislation, continues to oppose it.Credit:Eamon Gallagher

Liberal MP Tim Wilson was then director of the Libertarian Institute of Public Affairs. He argued that the introduction of plain packaging would cost taxpayers up to $ 3 billion as tobacco companies fought it in court.

Although the legal battles were won by the Commonwealth, Wilson still disagrees with this decision.

“Health activists are now talking about reproducing plain packaging on other products, as if they wanted higher taxes and sales restrictions and public warning labels.”

The Coalition was also widely opposed. Liberal backbench Dr Mal Washer, however, did not hesitate to support the measure, saying Age at the time, he would vote for the bill.

Dr Mal Washer (left) lobbied his party, led by then opposition leader Tony Abbott, to support plain packaging rules.

Dr Mal Washer (left) lobbied his party, led by then opposition leader Tony Abbott, to support plain packaging rules.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“I support these reforms unequivocally and whatever my party decides to do, I don’t care,” he said.

Dr Washer spent more than two decades as a general practitioner before joining Parliament and was highly regarded in the village hall. He says a number of his colleagues at the time didn’t want to see a nanny state, but he saw firsthand how harmful smoking can be.

“I was very determined to try and save lives with the right packaging,” he says.

“And it made a difference. It made a big difference.


Professor Daub says Roxon’s tenacity has been crucial in helping to secure the laws. She declined to be interviewed for this story.

Professor Wakefield says it’s time to review and update our tobacco regulations as the industry develops new marketing strategies to recruit and retain customers.

“There’s always more to do because the industry never stops, it’s very nimble,” she says, citing gadgets like menthol capsules that can be crushed into filters as an example, or bonus cigarettes in packages.


“We would love to see the return of a fully funded national tobacco control campaign that will bring to life some of the new harms of smoking that people don’t know about.”

Vaping is the next smoking problem on health expert sites.

Professor Wakefield said the rise in vaping is concerning, especially among young adults. In 2017, the last time it was measured, about 14% of high school students said they had ever used an e-cigarette – a pretty high figure, she says, and that was four years ago.

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