Category Archives: News

World Health Organization: Get ready for plain packaging

Recent moves to introduce plain (standardized) packaging of tobacco products can save lives by reducing demand for tobacco products, according to WHO and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat (WHO FCTC).

Plain packaging of tobacco products restricts or prohibits the use of logos, colours, brand images and promotional information on packaging other than brand and product names displayed in a standard colour and font style.

In December 2012, Australia became the first country to fully implement plain packaging. On 20 May 2016, France and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland each began implementation of plain packaging. Ireland is also preparing to introduce the measure, while other countries are exploring the option.

How plain packaging works

“Plain packaging reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products. It kills the glamour, which is appropriate for a product that kills people,” says WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “It restricts tobacco advertising and promotion. It limits misleading packaging and labelling. And it increases the effectiveness of health warnings.”

Plain packaging is recommended in WHO FCTC guidelines as part of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control that includes large graphic health warnings and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

Australia’s story

Smoking in Australia has been steadily declining for years. Australia introduced plain packaging, in conjunction with new and enlarged health warnings, in 2012. Between December 2012 and September 2015, there was an additional 0.55 percentage point fall in smoking prevalence among those aged 14 and above attributable to the packaging changes, according Australia’s post-implementation review. This equates to more than 108,000 people quitting, not relapsing or not starting to smoke during that period.

Dr Oleg Chestnov, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) and Mental Health, says Australia’s plain packaging results demonstrate the great potential of the measure. “Plain packaging can reduce consumption of tobacco products, as clearly seen in Australia. It offers a powerful tool to countries as part of a comprehensive approach to tackle the scourge of tobacco use,” says Dr Chestnov.

The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day – Get ready for plain packaging – highlights this new trend in global efforts to control tobacco products, which kill almost 6 million people annually, notes Dr Douglas Bettcher, WHO’s Director for the Prevention of NCDs.

Defying the tobacco industry

“Plain packaging is going global as more and more countries seek the important health gains it can bring to communities,” says Dr Bettcher. “The tobacco industry has been getting ready for plain packaging for some time, conducting massive misinformation campaigns to block the measure.”

“So it is encouraging to see more and more countries defy the industry’s tactics and implement plain packaging to reduce demand for tobacco products and put the health of their populations first.”

To mark World No Tobacco Day, WHO is launching a new guide to plain packaging of tobacco products, which gives governments the latest evidence and guidance on implementing the measure.

“Most governments are committed to curbing the tobacco epidemic and reducing tobacco-related harm, such as deaths from cancers, heart and lung diseases,” says Dr Vera da Costa e Silva, Head of the WHO FCTC Secretariat. “It is vital they have access to evidence-based, effective guidance that can support their efforts to protect the health of their populations.”

Click here for materials from the World Health Organization in support of the theme for World No Tobacco Day: Get Ready for Plain Packaging.

Source: World Health Organization (May 31, 2016)

Canada launches consultations on plain packaging

Big tobacco was dealt another blow this week after Canada kicked off a process to strip cigarette packs of their branding, following similar moves by Australia and the U.K.

Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott announced Tuesday a public consultation on plain packaging requirements for tobacco products. Plain packaging requires a uniform standardized color and font on all packages an also regulates the size and shape of products.

Over five million Canadians use tobacco, costing almost $4.4 billion in annual direct health care costs according to data from the Government of Canada.

Plain packaging aims at diminishing the appeal of smoking to youngsters and other potential smokers. In Canada, 85% of adult daily smokers had smoked their first cigarette by the age of 18, according to the government.

“I don’t believe tobacco companies should be allowed to build brand loyalty with children, for a product that could kill them,” said Dr. Philpott. “Research shows that plain packaging of tobacco products is an effective way to deter people from starting to smoke and will bolster our efforts to reduce tobacco use in Canada.”

The consultation will run until the end of August.

British American Tobacco PLC, Philip Morris International Inc. and Japan Tobacco Inc. are the three largest cigarette companies in Canada, according to data from Euromonitor.

Canada’s move comes after the U.K. begun implementing plain packaging for cigarette packs last month after a legal challenge against the measure by tobacco companies failed. Separately, the European Court of Justice recently upheld the 2014 Tobacco Products Directive, which paves the way for countries to put in place plain-packaging laws.

Australia became the first country to fully implement plain packaging, starting in 2012.

France recently passed legislation requiring plain packaging, with the law coming into effect last month. Ireland and Hungary have also passed plain-packaging laws. A total of 20 countries are looking at plain-packaging regulation, according to Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog. The U.S.’s free-speech laws make plain-packaging legislation all but impossible there.

Earlier this week on World No Tobacco Day, World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan endorsed plain packaging saying, “it kills the glamour.”

The tobacco industry has pushed back hard, filing lawsuits in which it claims plain packaging is ineffective.

Imperial Tobacco Canada, Canada’s largest tobacco company and a unit of British American Tobacco PLC, has lashed out at the Canadian government, accusing it of hypocrisy by regulating tobacco while taking steps to move ahead with legalizing marijuana.

“Announcing more tobacco regulations is an easy political win that will generate headlines, but do nothing to further reduce smoking rates,” said Imperial Tobacco Canada’s Director of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Eric Gagnon.

“Plain packaging is a gimmick policy that does not work, ”said Igor Dzaja, general manager of Japan Tobacco’s JTI-Macdonald Corp. unit.

By contrast, WHO and other health bodies have pointed to data from the Australian government showing that smoking prevalence in those aged 14 and up has fallen by 0.55 percentage points because of packaging changes in the country.

Source: Saabira Chaudhuri, Wall Street Journal (June 1, 2016)

UK court rejects industry challenge against plain packaging

Plain packaging of cigarettes will be mandatory from Friday after the high court in London rejected an attempt by the tobacco industry to prevent the change in the law.

Campaigners say other countries considering plain packaging – including Canada, Hungary, Norway and Slovenia – will be encouraged by the defeat of the industry.

“This landmark judgment is a crushing defeat for the tobacco industry and fully justifies the government’s determination to go ahead with the introduction of standardised packaging,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the charity Ash (Action on Smoking and Health).

“Millions of pounds have been spent on some of the country’s most expensive lawyers in the hope of blocking the policy. This disgraceful effort to privilege tobacco business interests over public health has rightly failed utterly.”

Plain packs will not be in shops immediately, because the companies have been allowed to sell off existing stocks first, but within a few months it is expected that the major brands will no longer be distinguishable from each other apart from the brand name on the packet in standard type face, colour and size. The packs will be the same shape, size and colour and 65% of the front and back surfaces will be covered by picture health warnings, with written warnings on the sides.

Sir Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said it was an important milestone. “It’s the beginning of the end for packaging that masks a deadly and addictive product. It’s taken many years to get to this point and it reflects a huge effort aimed at protecting children from tobacco marketing,” he said.

“Two-thirds of regular smokers start before they turn 18, so it is vital that the UK introduced measures like this. Australia’s experience has shown that standard packaging helps reduce youth smoking rates. We look forward to a tobacco-free generation which won’t be scarred by this lethal addiction.”

Plain packs are being introduced in line with the Tobacco Products Directive of the EU, which comes into force on Friday. It also imposes some restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes, imposing a limit on the amount of nicotine they can dispense and preventing them from being marketed as aids to quitting smoking without a licence.

Just one product has so far got a licence as a smoking-cessation aid from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority in the UK, made by the giant tobacco company British American Tobacco, although it is not yet in the shops.

The restrictions on e-cigarettes have proved controversial. Ben Southwood, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said: “Public health authorities should not lose sight of their real goal – or what should be their real goal – reducing harm to citizens while still allowing them freedom to make personal decisions, including those which involve trade-offs between health and pleasure.

“The recent crackdown on e-cigs is not only a restriction on consumer and individual freedom, but will condemn thousands – who might have switched from smoking to vaping – to an early death.”

In the high court case, the tobacco companies attacked the EU regulations and the UK parliamentary process that adopted them. Among their arguments, they claimed that the health secretary had placed only limited weight on the voluminous evidence they had gathered, said Mr Justice Green in his judgment.

Both sides argued the other was biased in their interpretation of the evidence. The judge ruled that the industry’s evidence was of low quality – falling below international standards – and the government was right not to give it greater weight.

In the end, said Green, “the essence of the case is about whether it is lawful for states to prevent the tobacco industry from continuing to make profits by using their trademarks and other rights to further what the World Health Organisation describes as a health crisis of epidemic proportions and which imposes an immense cleanup cost on the public purse.

“In my judgment the regulations are valid and lawful in all respects. There is no basis upon which I could or should strike down the regulations or prevent them coming into effect tomorrow.”

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said the judgment was disappointing. “Plain packaging treats adults like children and teenagers like idiots. Everyone knows the health risks of smoking and very few people start because of the packaging.

“Plain packaging has nothing to do with health. It’s gesture politics designed to appease public health campaigners who are forever searching for new ways to force smokers to quit … If you don’t smoke but enjoy alcohol, sugary drinks and convenience food you should be concerned by this judgment because the health police are coming for you too.”

JTI, one of the tobacco companies that brought the case, announced it intended to appeal, although this would not delay the introduction of plain packs.

Source: Sarah Boseley, The Guardian (May 19, 2016)

Click here to view a copy of a summary of the judgement or the full judgement.

Court rejects industry bid to sue Australia over plain packaging laws

An international tribunal has unveiled a secret ruling confirming it rejected a bid by tobacco giant Philip Morris to sue Australia over its plain packaging laws, calling the attempt “an abuse of rights”.

In its heavily redacted 186-page ruling dating from 17 December 2015, the permanent court of arbitration said it had no jurisdiction over the case brought by Philip Morris.

Australia wins international legal battle with Philip Morris over plain packaging

In 2012 Australia became the first country to mandate that cigarettes must be sold in plain packages, in an attempt to reduce smoking rates. This initiative has since been followed by other nations including France and Britain.

But big tobacco firms including Philip Morris have launched legal challenges against such laws, arguing the rules impinge on their trademark intellectual property.

Philip Morris, manufacturers of some of the world’s most recognisable brands, including Marlboro, lodged the challenge with the arbitration court based in The Hague in 2011 after the plain-packaging legislation was passed, using a 1993 trade deal between Australia and Hong Kong that included foreign investment protections.

But the permanent court of arbitration found in its unanimous ruling that “the main and determinative, if not sole, reason” for a restructuring of the company as far back as 2005 was to enable it “to bring a claim under the treaty, using an entity from Hong Kong” after it received ample warnings that such legislation was being considered.

“The record indeed shows that the principal, if not sole, purpose of the restructuring was to gain protection under the treaty in respect of the very measures that form the subject matter of the present arbitration,” the court ruled.

It added: “The tribunal cannot but conclude that the initiation of this arbitration constitutes an abuse of rights.”

The court therefore found that Philip Morris’s claims were “inadmissible” and it was “precluded from exercising jurisdiction over this dispute”.

The ruling came after a closed-door hearing held in Singapore in February 2015.

Canberra had welcomed the decision saying “plain packaging is a legitimate public health measure”.

Source: The Guardian (May 17, 2016)

Jump in calls to Smokers’ Helpline after toll-free number included on cigarette packaging

A study supported by the Canadian Cancer Society has found a major jump in calls to a Smokers’ Helpline after its telephone number was included on all packaging for cigarettes, as a result of a federal regulation from Health Canada.

The study began in March 2012 when the new national regulation regarding cigarette package warnings came into effect. This regulation included enlarging pictorial health warnings from 50% to 75% of the package, as well as including a toll-free quitline telephone number and website address. Smokers’ Helpline provides support, tips, and strategies for quitting smoking and tobacco use, as well as information and assistance to smokers, former smokers, and their families and friends.

In the first 7 months of the study of Ontario’s Smokers’ Helpline there was a 160% increase in the number of calls to the quitline and a sustained increase of 80% in the months following the implementation of the regulation. New callers receiving treatment after calling the quitline also increased by 174%. Calls to Ontario’s Smokers’ Helpline, operated by the Canadian Cancer Society, were measured through to December 2013.

“Studies show that a large number of smokers not only have inadequate knowledge of the health effects of smoking, but are not aware of the free and effective population-based cessation services such as quitlines,” says Dr Bruce Baskerville, who led the study at Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo. “This study has provided the evidence that advertising quitline numbers on packages leads to smokers taking action to stop smoking, thereby cutting their risk of cancer.”

Results from this study also affirm how important cigarette packaging can be in communicating with smokers.

“The large increase in calls to the quitline reinforces the importance of the 2012 expansion of the health warning size to 75% of the package, front and back,” says Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst, Canadian Cancer Society. “The extra space allows for the quitline number and website to be included.”

These findings also support the implementation of plain packaging in Canada, where health warnings and pictures would appear on plain packages together with a standard colour for the branded section, such as the brown required in Australia. Package dimensions would be standardized, thus eliminating slim and superslim packs targeting women.

“Colourful, attractive brand portions of the package should not be able to distract from the health warning and quitline number that discourage tobacco,” says Cunningham. “We applaud the federal government’s commitment to require tobacco plain packaging in Canada.”

So far, plain packaging has been adopted for implementation in Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom and France, and Canada’s federal government has committed to implement plain packaging.

“Modifiable risk factors like smoking account for over half of all cancer deaths,” says Dr. Stephen Robbins, scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute for Cancer Research. “Increasing the size of health warnings and adding the quitline telephone number to cigarette packaging has the potential to decrease the cancer burden in this country and save lives.”

“Impact of Canadian tobacco packaging policy on use of toll-free quit-smoking line: an interrupted time series analysis” was funded by the CIHR. The study was published in CMAJ Open, the online journal from the Canadian Medical Association Journal and can be accessed here.

Founded by the Canadian Cancer Society and University of Waterloo, the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact is a pan-Canadian platform for engaged scholarship to prevent cancers, other chronic disease and their behavioural and environmental causes. Propel leads and catalyzes relevant and rigorous studies, and moves evidence into action.

About Smokers’ Helpline
Smokers’ Helpline is a free service that provides non-judgmental personalized support, tips, and strategies for quitting smoking and tobacco use. Smokers’ Helpline offers assistance and information to smokers, former smokers, and their friends and family by telephone and online. In Ontario service is also offered by text messaging. The Canadian Cancer Society provides quitline services under the Smokers’ Helpline brand in 5 provinces (Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and PEI) and one territory (Yukon). To learn more call the phone number on cigarette packages (1-866-366-3667) or visit SmokersHelpline.ca.

About the Canadian Cancer Society
The Canadian Cancer Society is a national, community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is to eradicate cancer and enhance the quality of life of people living with cancer. Thanks to our donors and volunteers, the Society has the most impact, against the most cancers, in the most communities in Canada. For more information, visit cancer.ca or call our toll-free bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY 1-866-786-3934).

For further information: Rosie Hales, Communications specialist, Canadian Cancer Society, National Office, 416-934-5338, rosie.hales@cancer.ca

Source: CNW, Canadian Cancer Society (February 9, 2016)

Canada to introduce plain packaging requirements

Prepare to say goodbye to royal blue Belmonts, ruby red Du Mauriers, and burgundy Dunhills.

In hopes of curbing national smoking rates, Health Minister Jane Philpott has announced the federal government “will introduce new plain-packaging requirements for tobacco products.” These requirements could prohibit “brand colours, logos, and graphics” on cigarette boxes and cartons.

If the Liberals’ policy is fulfilled, every cigarette pack in Canada will have the same uniform look and colour; its only distinguishing feature will be a brand name, printed in small letters at the bottom of the product.

This anti-smoking initiative will almost certainly be annoying for convenience store owners who, having memorized every cigarette logo in their stocks, might one day be forced to squint at hundreds of labels in order to select the right box. But by all other accounts, the government’s plan is ingenious. Here’s why. Plain packaging won’t likely convince Canadians to quit smoking, but it might dissuade them from taking up the habit to begin with.

This is because while the new mandate won’t warn people about the dangers of smoking (which they already know by now) it does something more powerful. It erodes brand loyalty to tobacco companies, and chips away at the only thing that makes cigarettes appealing to first time smokers in the first place: their cool factor.

Teenagers don’t start smoking to alleviate stress. They start smoking because they think it’s cool. And a big part of what makes cigarettes sexy and popularity-inducing is the box they arrive in. This is a reality well known to tobacco companies: the pack of cigarettes in your purse is a significant marker of social status and class.

Where I grew up, north of Toronto, Belmont cigarettes were the staple brand of the popular, affluent woman. When I attended Dalhousie University in Halifax, the same stereotype prevailed: if you smoked Belmonts you were assumed to be a wealthy, stuck up Toronto girl. If you smoked Canadians, on the other hand, you were assumed to be local and down to earth. If you smoked Dunhills, you were assumed to be sketchy, but rich; if you smoked Peter Jacksons, you were assumed to be sketchy and poor. If you smoked Vogues you were old, and probably Russian. And so on.

These perceptions do not die. In the words of Jonathan MacArthur, a 26-year-old native of P.E.I. who lives in Toronto, “(The Belmont smoker) is a Torontonian who doesn’t mind spending money on an expensive pack of king sized charcoal filtered smokes. She has no idea what a charcoal filter means, but she doesn’t care. She likes to turn up on the weekends in Queen West; she probably only buys pink or black lighters.”

These cigarette brand stereotypes are not merely the product of our imagination: According to a study by the National Cancer Institute in the United States, “youth-popular (tobacco) brands convey an image of smokers of those brands as popular and admired. The companies believe that conveying that popular people smoke their brand motivates the choice of that brand.”

But if you can no longer clearly identify a brand, the social cachet associated with it ceases to exist. If the government institutes a new model in which tobacco logos are near impossible to make out, the social markers associated with those logos might erode — and with them, the appeal of smoking for people driven and seduced by brand identity. This is a very good thing. So, too, is the fact that Australia, the first country to institute a plain packaging policy in 2012, saw a noticeable drop in tobacco consumption.

In the end, it’s unlikely that plain packaging will dissuade tried and true addicts from buying cigarettes, or teens committed to the act. It’s also entirely possible that in the absence of explicit branding, young people will simply become more discriminating in the judgment of their peers. Who knows: maybe they’ll begin inspecting brand names on packs of cigarettes the same way they inspect labels on hand bags.
But it’s also entirely possible that the new world of plain packaging will dismantle popular assumptions associated with cigarette brands. And for the teen whose interest in smoking is purely status-driven, the thrill of lighting up will dissipate. Vices without perks lose their lustre fast.

Source: Emma Teitel, The Star (January 29, 2016)

France passes plain packaging law

Cigarettes in France will be sold in plain packaging under a law that was finally passed in parliament on Thursday despite objections from the conservative opposition.

Starting in May 2016, the brand name will appear but in a small, uniform typeface and packets will be shorn of logos.

With backing from the ruling Socialists and the Greens, the text finally came into law after mainly conservative senators added amendments to the draft that was first voted in April, which would allow the brand name to appear in small letters.

The senate had initially demanded that the neutral packaging clause be removed from the draft legislation.

Around a quarter of French adults indulge in the hazardous habit, according to the World Health Organisation, and one third of teenagers also smoke.

Nine years ago, France controversially banned smoking in enclosed public spaces, including bars and restaurants. And only last month, Paris authorities doubled fines for dropping cigarette butts to 68 euros (£50/$75) in a city where some 350 tonnes of them are collected annually.

Last year, health minister Marisol Touraine estimated some 13 million people still light up in France and that smoking accounts for around 78,000 deaths, the leading cause of premature death in the country.

All cigarettes will from May next year have to be sold in neutral packaging of uniform size and colour in a move that is notably similar to legislation adopted in Australia three years ago.

The United Kingdom and Ireland have since followed suit.

Source: Agence France-Presse, The Guardian (December 18, 2015)

Irish Parliament approves plain packaging bill

March 4, 2015

Ireland has become the first country in Europe to ban branded cigarette packets.

The Republic’s second chamber, the Seanad, passed the plain packaging law on Tuesday night, which also makes it illegal to sell cigarettes in lipstick-style containers designed for female smokers.

The public health (standardised packaging of tobacco) bill 2014 requires the removal of all industry marketing from tobacco packaging. It has now passed all stages of the Republic’s parliament.

Ireland’s minister for children and youth affairs, James Reilly, said: “The interests of public health will be served when children decide never to take up smoking in the first place and if smokers are persuaded to quit. We have a duty to prevent our children from being lured into a killer addiction.

“Standardised packaging will strip away the illusions created by shiny, colourful cigarette packets and replace them with shocking images showing the real consequences of smoking.”

Japan Tobacco International, the multinational that owns brands such as Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges, has warned it will go to court to challenge the new law. A spokesperson for JTI said that plain packaging is a disproportionate, unjustified and unlawful measure.

But Reilly said the Fine Gael-Labour coalition is prepared to take on any challenge from the tobacco giant. Anti-smoking group Ash Ireland said the ban was vital health legislation.

Ash Ireland’s spokesman, Ross Morgan, said the government and opposition politicians should be complimented for pushing ahead with the ban despite threats of legal actions.

“We would also expect that should the industry mount a legal challenge on any aspect of this health legislation it will be vigorously contested,” he said.

“Ash Ireland is firmly of the view that the successful implementation of this legislation here in Ireland will set the scene for others to follow in Europe as was the case with the workplace smoking legislation some 11 years ago.”

More than 5,200 people die in Ireland each year from the effects of smoking and more than €1bn (£730m) is spent by health services every year treating tobacco-related disease.

Ireland was the first country in the world to ban smoking in public places back in March 2004. It was also the first country in the world to impose a restriction upon smoking outdoors within 3 metres of any public building.

Source: Henry McDonald, The Guardian (March 3, 2015)

Plain packaging: Ireland vs Big Tobacco

February 25, 2015

New Zealand, France, Norway and Finland are all considering plain cigarette packaging legislation

The government is facing down legal threats from Big Tobacco over plans to introduce standardised packaging for cigarettes, with Japan Tobacco International (Ireland) threatening the government over it immimnent plans.

The tobacco industry has already demonstrated its ability to inflict expensive litigation in Australia, which is fighting tobacco giant Philip Morris over similar restrictions to those planned by the Irish government.

The Australian government has faced a number of separate legal challanges – domestically and internationally.

The World Trade Organisation is expected to rule on a legal challenge against Australia in 2016, according to a statement from Philip Morris.

That will have implications for Ireland, which may also face international challenges. Of more immediate concern to the Irish government is the expected domestic challenge. The tobacco industry has already claimed that standardised packaging tramples over intellectual and other property rights. This is expected to form the basis of its legal challenge.

Barrister James Bridgeman, an international arbitrator who specialises in intellectual property law, said: “There are strong arguments on both sides of this. On the one hand, the Trademarks Act protects the property right in registered trademarks. That is reinforced by Article 43 of the Constitution, which expressly protects the right to private property. On the other hand, the Constitutional right to private property is not absolute and it must be exercised in accordance with social justice and the exigencies of the common good.

Brand Down Under

The Irish government’s attempt at regulating cigarette packaging follows a landmark bill in Australia, which passed in 2012.

The Australian legislation is the strictest in the world, and has become the subject of a major onslaught by tobacco companies desperate to hold on to some vestige of brand control.

In Australia, all packs are a drab brown-green colour, with prominent health warnings and graphic images of carcinogenic doom. Brand names are in tiny lettering that is barely visible without close scrutiny

“Much of this industry is about image. It is not about tobacco,” said Robert Stumberg, a US professor of law who has analysed tobacco regulation and litigation around the world.

The Australian government’s move infuriated tobacco companies like Imperial Tobacco Group, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco, which put forward an array of arguments in response.

They argued that the move violated free speech; encouraged illegal, unregulated sales; expropriated the value of trademarks; and went against international free trade agreements. They also claimed that standardised packaging merely persuades smokers to switch between brands and that advertising does not affect overall consumption.

Anti-smoking groups like Ash (Action on Smoking and Health) have disputed this. They argue that tobacco packaging is the industry’s “silent salesman” – especially as advertising and sponsorship is prohibited in so many countries.

While the Australian government won the initial legal battle in its domestic courts, its legal challenges have not ended there. Philip Morris is suing it for extensive damages, basing its case on Australia’s bilateral investment treaty with Hong Kong. Without its branding, Philip Morris is arguing that “its products will not be readily distinguishable to the consumer from the products of its competitors”.

A number of countries, including Indonesia, Cuba, Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, are also challenging Australia’s cigarette packaging legislation at the World Trade Organisation. They argue that Australia’s legislation is a barrier to trade and restricts intellectual property. Some of these challenges are partly financially supported by Big Tobacco.

The battle of David and Goliath

Australia was the first country in the world to introduce such restrictive laws, but Uruguay had already made huge strides. Since 2009, cigarette packages in the South American country must be 80 per cent covered by health warnings, including graphic photos of cancer sufferers.

Uruguay, however, is also facing a major legal challenge.

Philip Morris, whose brands include Marlboro, launched a legal action claiming that the law violated Uruguay’s 1988 bilateral investment treaty with Switzerland, where Philip Morris is headquartered. Philip Morris is demanding $25 million in compensation for damage to its brands. It claims that these damages “are the direct result of Uruguay’s decision to disregard its commitments to investors, and its failure to respect and protect investments in intellectual property in accordance with the treaty”.

Stumberg said expensive litigation was a “key element” in the tobacco industry’s strategy to “create a chilling effect on progressive tobacco measures.

“The industry has a history of litigating theories that will lose just to inflcit pain on the defending country,” he said.

Silvina Echarte Acevedo, the legal advisor leading the Uruguayan case, likened it to David and Goliath. Uruguay’s annual gross domestic product is dwarfed by the $80 billion that Philip Morris took in last year. Uruguay has stated that it would not have been able to fight the legal case if the foundation of Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, had not provided financial support.

Many nations have been frightened off by Big Tobacco’s wealth and legal muscle. Many developing countries are at a disadvantage as they did not have the resources or special legal expertise to fight.

Even developed countries like Canada and New Zealand have backed away from planned changes in the face of investment treaty claims, although a number of countries are revisiting the idea again. In January, the British government said it would offer MPs a free vote on standardised packaging before May’s general election.

New Zealand, France, Norway and Finland are also considering plain packaging legislation.

Free trade agreements often exempt rules meant to protect public health.

Professor Stumberg and others believe the claims could turn on whether plain packaging rules can be shown to reduce tobacco use. That could also be important in a domestic court case here.

Does plain packaging reduce consumption?

Unsurprisingly, health officials and anti-smoking activists differ from the tobacco industry’s viewpoint when it comes to assessing the impact that plain packaging has on consumption.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a government body, published a report in July 2014 which found that daily smoking rates had fallen at their fastest pace for two decades between 2010 and 2013. The survey found that young people were delaying taking up the habit, and that the number of cigarettes smoked per week had fallen.

It is difficult to establish a direct causal link to standardised packaging. Smoking has been declining in Australia for more than two decades, and tobacco taxes rose recently.

A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2013 found that smokers who bought plain packs were more likely than branded pack smokers to perceive their cigarettes as of lower quality, and more likely to think about quitting the habit.

Last week, the scientific journal Addiction published a collection of peer-reviewed research papers and reports on standardised packaging, in which the researchers concluded that standardised packs were likely to reduce smoking rates.

What transpires in Ireland will be closely oberved by other countries. If the onslaught in Australia is anything to go by, the battle has barely begun.

Source: Susan Mitchell, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (February 24, 2015)

Bangladesh: Pictorial warnings to appear in 1 year, 6 of 7 images disgarded

February 25, 2015

The deadline for implementing pictorial warning on tobacco packets has been increased for two months, and for that the tobacco companies have got one year to implement the pictorial warning on tobacco packets after passing the Tobacco Control Rules, and among the seven types of pictorial warnings now only one will be used, reads a report on the Daily Bhorer Kagoj on February 25, 2015 by Tutul Rahman, an ATMA member and Swapna Chakrabortee. The report reads that the draft over the issue is on finalization stage and although the draft was formulated about two year ago, the pictorial warning could not be enforced yet because of the interference from the tobacco companies. A Health Ministry official, following the report, seeking anonymity said that the deadline extension of implementing pictorial warning on tobacco packets is highly harmful for public health.

The draft tobacco control Rules underwent extensive analysis for several months at the Health and Law Ministry where the tobacco companies have manipulated the Draft after their benefits, and even the Health Minister had met with the representatives of multinational tobacco company which is completely illegal according to the international anti-tobacco treaty FCTC, but the Health Minister, denied the allegation with an excuse that he is able to meet anyone as a public representative, read the report.

Earlier, the tobacco companies appointed different consultant (e.g. printer’s owners association) to advocate them with the excuses that pictorial warning implementation will be delayed as the required machineries will have to be bought from international market, and thus they sought 10 months from the Health Ministry official to implement the pictorial warning.

The report also mentions that the amendments on the tobacco control law are important but could not be enforced for the negligence of the relevant officials. A neighboring country – Pakistan has also implemented the pictorial warning and the tobacco companies in the country are using 40 per cent of the total space of the packets while it will be 85 per cent from March of this year, reads the report. Anti-tobacco experts, after the news, are on the view that implementing pictorial warning on tobacco packets is not a difficult one for Bangladesh and if the frightening images are on the packets, it will be helpful to uphold the negative consequences of tobacco use among the commoners.

The report also says that researchers have found that such pictorial warnings will be able to attract attention of smokers for about 7000 times in average annually that will be helpful to help them giving up smoking.

The detail of the report, including an image of the pictorial warning, is available on the following link: http://www.bkagoj1.com/print-edition/2015/02/25/20693.php