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Plain Packaging – International Overview

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French MPs vote to change laws on smoking, nutrition, binge drinking, fashion models

France’s lower parliament voted in favour of a package of wide-ranging reforms affecting many areas of public health regulations on Tuesday. Many public health lobbyists are happy about the changes, although they say some measures still need to be elaborated in practice.

Most of the attention the proposals of Health Minister Marisol Touraine have received in the French media has revolved around protests from doctors over changes to fee payment systems.

However, it also contains far-reaching measures on regulations around smoking, including making it illegal to smoke inside of a vehicle with someone under 18 years of age or to smoke electronic cigarettes in workplaces.

But the main measures really clamp down on marketing in the tobacco industry, including the implementation of plain packaging for all cigarette brands.

“It’s the end of the possibility for the tobacco industry to use packaging as a marketing tool, because there’s no space for advertising on the new package,” says Stephen Lequet, chief lobbyist with French NGO Non-Smokers’ Rights, in reference to a ban to come into effect as of May 2016.

The measures would also oblige tobacco companies to provide details on their marketing and advertising activities, including spending figures.

“I’m also happy about the new rules about transparency in lobbying, because it’s important for society to know the lobbying means used by this particular industry,” Lequet said.

Other measures address issues of nutrition and obesity, including the introduction of a new labelling system for food products. “It’s very important for consumers to know more about the nutritional value of the food they eat on a daily basis, because the present nutritional labelling is very difficult to understand for the average consumer,” says Olivier Andrault, food manager with consumer association UFC Que Choisir. “It talks about carbohydrates and sodium and saturated fat, which is totally illegible for normal people.”

UFC Que Choisir has campaigned alongside doctors and nutritionists for an easier-to-read system. However, although the new law paves the way for a new system, it does not say exactly which system will be used.

“The new law just gives a general principle that the government and the various actors in the food sector will try to develop, but there is a fierce battle between the food industry, retailers, consumer organisations and health authorities,” Andrault explains. For example, a system proposed by doctors would give a letter grade based on the nutritional value of a product, while distributors would prefer a system based on how many times a week any given product should be consumed. “Most of the food industry does not want any simplified labelling scheme,” he says. “The reason is very simple: they do not want the consumer to know too clearly the bad nutritional quality of their products. [But] for retailers, it’s interesting to see a very positive attitude.”

Andrault explains how supermarket chains are working together to devise a common system, and hopes it can be used to fulfil the requirements of the new law.

“We hope health authorities and retailers will manage to define a common scheme, because what is important for us is to have one official, simplified scheme that will be used throughout France for all food products.” Another set of proposals targets the modelling and fashion industry in hopes of fighting anorexia and health issues related to image issues.

One law would force agencies to ensure that a model’s body mass index is at a healthy level, while another restriction would force magazines and advertisers to include labels that say whether images of models have been altered.

Now those in favour of these measures are happy they’re included, but there are also concerns about their effectiveness given the nature of the fashion industry.

“It’s great this law is being passed, even though the reality of the fashion industry is that it doesn’t just happen in Paris, it also happens in New York, Milan and London,” says Natalie Yuksel, a British fashion photographer based in Paris.

“I feel it’s a law that has to be passed in all those countries for it to really work,” she says. “I just don’t see realistically how the law can just be applied to France, as the same girls will show in all of the other cities. I just hope on the back of this, the other cities will also implement this law.”

But Yuksel is also hopeful the reform could be part of wider changes in the international fashion world.

“If there’s enough noise about something, change does happen,” she says.

Other measures include banning those under the age of 18 from tanning salons and fighting binge drinking among young people.

The law would impose fines of up to 15,000 euros and up to a year in prison for anyone encouraging the excessive consumption of alcohol

As Europe adopts Australia’s plain packaging reforms, big tobacco fights back

There are winners and losers in the plain packaging for cigarettes battle. Big business is trying valiantly to its protect its ground.

Weed killers: Former attorney-general Nicola Roxon has been meeting European campaigners such as Norwegian Cancer Society's Anne Lise Ryel about the push for plain paper packaging. Photo: Supplied

Weed killers: Former attorney-general Nicola Roxon has been meeting European campaigners such as Norwegian Cancer Society’s Anne Lise Ryel about the push for plain paper packaging. Photo: Supplied

“It’s a bit stunning … dominos falling everywhere.”

Mike Daube, mild-mannered health policy professor from Western Australia, is surveying the virtual battlefield in the war against big tobacco. And he likes what he sees.

“It really is the most dramatic global development in tobacco control that I can remember in more than 40 years.”

A pile of cigarette packets with plain packaging. Photo: Nic Walker

A pile of cigarette packets with plain packaging. Photo: Nic Walker

This month alone saw Ireland and Britain legislate for plain cigarette packets with big ugly health warnings, following Australia’s 2012 lead. Norway and France – and others – are hard on their heels.

These wins have come despite fierce opposition from the tobacco industry. Lawyers have threatened huge lawsuits, piles of specially-commissioned reports have been delivered to key lobbyists, legislators and opinion-makers, and the industry even (Daube’s colleagues claim) played dirty tricks along the way.

“I haven’t seen the industry as ferocious about anything in more than 40 years,” says Prof Daube. “They clearly do see it as a massive threat, especially now that so many dominos are falling.”

Also this week, billionaire philanthropists Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates dug for small change in the sofa and found $US4 million to help developing countries fight legal threats from tobacco companies.

The fund was launched (and Prof Daube was speaking) from Abu Dhabi, where the 16th World Conference on Tobacco has the air of a war room, mid-campaign.

There were rousing speeches. Talk of tactics and strategies and alliances. War stories were shared and heads put together to try to read the mind of the enemy.

Deterrent packaging

Deterrent packaging

Dr Douglas Bettcher, director of prevention of noncommunicable diseases at the WHO, was there. He agrees tobacco control measures are being adopted at “an extraordinary pace”.

Two and a half weeks ago Ireland passed plain packaging legislation, last week similar legislation passed the UK House of Commons and Singapore announced a public consultation on plain packaging. This week the House of Lords passed it into law in the UK, Norway released a public consultation document proposing it and plain packaging bills are under discussion in Panama and South Africa, Dr Bettcher says.

This is not to mention moves in France, New Zealand, Burkina Faso and Turkey.

“All of this progress is being made despite the industry’s best efforts to thwart it,” he says. “Given that the industry fights hardest against the most effective tobacco control measures, it must be very worried about what the globalisation of plain packaging could do, and it is very busy concocting false evidence and lobbying hard against it.

“This is an important moment in the history of tobacco control. We are witnessing the creation of a global movement.”

A keynote presenter in Abu Dhabi was Dr James Reilly, a mellifluous Irishman with a flair for the dramatic. He sounds like a victorious general back from the front.

This month Ireland became the second country in the world and the first in Europe to enact plain packaging legislation. Reilly shepherded the law through, as Minister for Children.

“This has been a long journey,” he says. He called for a round of applause for Australia for paving the way and inspiring their decision to follow – however, he says, “there were far more twists and turns than we ever anticipated.”

To start with, European law did not permit plain packaging. Ireland had to use its 2013 presidency of the EU to push new laws through.

“But when the directive made its way to the European Parliament we saw the full power and influence of the tobacco industry at work,” Reilly says.

Documents leaked to The Observer newspaper showed 161 lobbyists were hired by just one tobacco company. Philip Morris International strategised to delay the directive until the EU presidency passed to tobacco-friendly Lithuania.

In one year lobbyists claimed almost £1.24 million in expenses for meetings with MEPs, The Observer reported. They held personal meetings with a third of all the huge parliament’s members, some up to five times. They targeted farmers’ organisations, retail bodies and trade and business organisations.

“Members of the EU parliament complained that the scale of lobbying on this directive was unprecedented,” Reilly says. “There was a very real danger that the parliament would vote in favour of reducing the size of warnings.”
The Irish prevailed in Brussels. The focus switched back home – and the tobacco industry followed.

They enlisted members of the EU parliament, US congressmen, Indonesian farmers and Irish retailers to their cause.

“We were lobbied on a scale that Irish politics had never seen before,” Reilly says.

Benson and Hedges owner JTI Ireland (a 55-billion-euro multinational based in Geneva) warned in the last desperate week before the bill went to parliament, that the government had just days to withdraw or face a High Court claim for hefty damages.

“(Their) letter was especially aggressive,” says Reilly. “Not only did they attempt to tell a sovereign government that we did not have the authority … they attempted to tell us how far we could progress it through our parliament and insisted that we provide them with a written undertaking within a matter of days not to progress it any further.”

Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris echoed the threats.

“But we had built a strong coalition that proved impenetrable,” Reilly says. As a doctor he had seen firsthand the devastation caused by lung cancer. He told his stories to his colleagues. Not one member of parliament voted against the law, he says.

“[Big tobacco’s] only aim is to protect their profits. Our aim and our duty is to protect the health of our people especially that of our children. We have the truth on our side and truth, as an old lady once told me, is not fragile, will not break. Nor will we.”

Cigarette companies including BAT are now “considering their legal options”, Fairfax was told.

Then it was the UK’s turn. Prime minister David Cameron had once been a plain packaging fan but by 2013 the plan sat in the coldest corner of the backburner after his Australian strategist-for-hire Lynton Crosby reportedly told him to “scrape the barnacles off the boat” in preparation for the 2015 election.

Crosby, who also consults for Philip Morris, denied that he had ever discussed plain packaging with the PM. But for whatever reason, it seemed dead.

But then up popped the policy again, suddenly, amid the dying embers of the final legislative sitting. Fairfax understands the government’s hand was forced by a strong push for a private members bill in the House of Lords.

Again, the tobacco companies campaigned strongly. Media were heavily briefed against plain packaging, as were MPs. Opinion columns rehearsed the tobacco lobby’s song sheet (to be fair, by now the anti-tobacco lobby’s arguments were just as well-practised).

The law passed, despite a sizable rebellion among MPs (and many who had to abstain, citing conflicts of interest or revealing previous tobacco lobby gifts such as tickets to the Chelsea Flower Show).

A spokesperson for British American Tobacco told Fairfax there will be legal action. “This legislation is a case of the UK Government taking property from a UK business without paying for it. That is illegal under both UK and European law.”

“The UK Government has left us with no other choice… Any business that has property taken away from it by the state would inevitably want to challenge and seek compensation.”

You could call it The Castle argument. As Darryl Kerrigan might put it, a cigarette packet is more than just a drawing on a box. By removing a company’s right to use their own brand, you are stealing something from them. The tobacco lobby has other arguments but this is the core of their fight: not to lose their identity.

Unlike in The Castle, this line failed in Australia’s High Court. But it is now being fought in two international jurisdictions including the WTO, on the basis that the laws breach Australia’s treaty obligations. And it will be fought again against the UK and possibly Ireland.

And now it is Norway’s turn to enter the fray.

This week, in a restaurant on a scenic hill overlooking Oslo, Norway’s health minister lunched with the local secretary-general of the Norwegian Cancer Society, Anne Lise Ryel, on the day of the launch of a consultation paper on plain packaging – which also proposed new transparency rules on tobacco industry lobbying.

There was another guest at the table: Nicola Roxon, Australia’s former health minister and attorney-general, the politician who used her two key roles in the former Labour government to formulate and then enact the laws that set a precedent for the world.

Roxon is out of politics but finds herself in demand globally for her experience in the fight for plain packaging.

“We were looking to Australia to see what happened and to learn,” Ryel tells Fairfax. “In this consultation paper Australia is mentioned many times.”

They wanted to see, particularly, how the industry would fight. “All the time they become more sophisticated because they need to… they always try to be a step or two ahead,” Ryel says.

They have seen dirty tricks already: in a previous legal fight against Philip Morris the tobacco companies spread their money around Oslo’s law firms, leaving them unable to advise the government.

Bent Hoie, Norway’s health minister, tells Fairfax that Australia should be “commended” for leading the way. “That has been very important for us, we have a complete example to follow. We can use their experience and be better prepared for what kind of resistance we will meet.”

Ms Roxon says she is proud – and Australia should be proud of what it has achieved and what might yet be achieved following Australia’s lead.

“I’m really pleased to be able to share our experience and hope that other countries will be able to avoid some of the problems,” she says.

“You can’t just have the first, you need to have the second, third and fourth for it to become something that people will do as a matter of course.”

She says the Norwegians are “super-organised and super-committed” but have been picking her brains on the tobacco industry’s likely response, especially how they brought employer and business lobbies into the argument.

It may sound like big tobacco is losing an existential battle. But not so fast. Last year the world smoked more than 5.8 trillion cigarettes. The number was comparable to the year before, in which tobacco industry profits were more than $US44 billion according to Tobacco Atlas.

Barely a 10th of the world’s population lives in countries with bans on tobacco advertising. Low- and middle-income countries now account for more than 80 per cent of tobacco users – and tobacco-related deaths.

The reduction in smoking rates in countries such as Britain, Australia and Brazil was more than offset by growing consumption in China alone.

“Developing markets are driving our growth – while developed markets are the source of current profits, developing markets are the drivers of future profits,” a BAT spokesperson tells Fairfax.

So why bother with Norway, when you’ve got China?

Ryel says she believes her country, and others, are setting an example, and providing a template that others can follow.

“That’s why it’s so important that we help the other countries, to see the force we put the other way. What happens in Norway, we think and hope is helpful for other countries that want to go on board, they will feel more secure.”

If this idea catches on, it could snuff out tobacco on a global scale

France to introduce plain packaging on cigarettes

The French government has officially passed a number of anti-smoking laws proposed last year by the health minister. As well as neutral cigarette packaging, the country’s smokers can expect a crackdown on smoking in cars with children, ‘vaping’ bans in some public places and sanctions on electronic cigarette flavours.

The amendments to the Health Bill were made at a Parliament meeting held yesterday, Wednesday 18th March, in reflection of the measures proposed by Health Minister Marisol Touraine in September 2014.

The most high-profile – and controversial, given the outcry from tobacco brands and vendors – is the implementation of neutral cigarette packaging.

As of 20th May 2016, all tobacco packaging will be standardised, with all packets made the same shape, size, colour and with the same typeset, reports Le Figaro. Brand logos will also be prohibited, although the printing of brand names is permitted. This concerns not only cigarettes and loose tobacco, but all smoking paraphernalia, including tobacco rolling papers and filters.

France is only the second country in the world to introduce such measures, after Australia ruled in 2012 that all cigarettes must be sold in neutralised, logo-free packaging. However, the UK is following suit and last month MPs voted in favour of making the same move. If passed it would also become effective in May next year.

Smoking in cars with children present will also be banned, with drivers found to be doing so facing a fine. The main objective is to limit children’s exposure to cigarette smoke, with the added aim of fighting against the trivialisation of smoking to young people. A common argument is that the more a child is exposed to the act, the more normal and accepted it becomes to them. It is as yet unclear when this measure will come into effect.

While they don’t officially fall within laws surrounding smoking in public, vaporisers are to be banned in some areas, including schools and public transport. And, according to Marisol Touraine, while they are of course a better alternative to tobacco, vaporisers and e-cigarettes could serve as a “gateway to smoking” for young people.

Finally, the creation of electronic cigarettes in varying artificial flavours is to be forbidden, amid claims that this makes them more appealing to young people.

The main aim of the plan is to reduce the number of smokers to fewer than 20% of the population within 10 years, compared with today’s figure of 28%. Smoking currently causes 78,000 deaths a year in France.

Madeleine Adey


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France to ban smoking in cars with kids

France unveiled a raft of new measures to crackdown on tobacco and electronic cigarettes on Thursday including a ban on lighting up in cars where young children are present and forbidding e-cigs in certain public places.

France announced on Thursday that it would introduce plain cigarette packaging and ban electronic cigarettes in certain public places, in a bid to reduce high smoking rates among the under-16s.

Following a successful similar campaign in Australia, Health Minister Marisol Touraine said cigarette packets would be “the same shape, same size, same colour, same typeset” to make smoking less attractive to young smokers.

Smoking is the main cause of death in France, with 73,000 people dying each year of tobacco-related illnesses. Approximately 13 million people smoke in France every day, out of a total population of around 66 million.

“In France, 13 million adults smoke on a daily basis. And the situation is getting worse. The number of smokers is growing, especially among young people,” said Touraine.

“We can’t accept that tobacco kills 73,000 people every year in our country – the equivalent of a plane crash every day with 200 people on board,” she added.

Paris also intends to ban smoking in cars where children under the age of 12 are present. Sparking up will also be forbidden in kids’ outdoor play areas.

Advertising for e-cigarettes will also be regulated in the same way it is for traditional tobacco.

Touraine had long made it clear she wanted to ban e-cigarettes in public places, a move that sparked opposition from representatives of the burgeoning industry.

Currently users can fire up the devices in bars, cafes and restaurants because the devices use vapour and not smoke to deliver nicotine.

E-cigarettes have exploded in France, with statistics published by the French Observatory for Drugs and Addiction (OFDT) estimating that 18 percent of French people between the age of 15 and 75 had tried them.

Touraine acknowledged that “it’s better to vape than to smoke” but stressed: “For a young person who has never smoked, an electronic cigarette can become a way in to smoking.”

E-cigarettes will be banned in locations where young people gather – schools, for example – as well as on public transport and in enclosed work spaces.

The legislation proposed on Thursday is part of the government’s national plan to crack down on smoking. However the measure to introduce plain packaging is likely to face opposition from tobacco companies.

European Union laws already force tobacco firms to cover 65 percent of the packaging with health warnings.

But France wants to go further and follow Australia’s example, to the fury of the tobacco companies.

Celine Audibert, spokeswoman for French firm Seita, which is a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco, slammed the move as “completely incomprehensible”.

“It’s based on the Australian experience which, more than a failure, was a complete fiasco,” she said.

France to introduce plain cigarette packaging

The new law would require packaging to be "the same shape, same size, same colour, same typeset"

The new law would require packaging to be “the same shape, same size, same colour, same typeset”

The French government has unveiled controversial new measures to cut the number of its smokers, including introducing plain cigarette packaging.

The proposals are specifically aimed at reducing the high rates of teenage smokers in France. Health Minister Marisol Touraine plans to follow Australia’s example, which introduced similar measures in 2012. Experts say removing branding on packets and adding large health warnings reduced smoking in Australia. However, some tobacco companies dispute the evidence for this and say France’s plans are incomprehensible. Smoking is the main cause of death in France, with more than 70,000 people dying each year of tobacco-related illnesses.

The new measures, which will come into effect once the law goes through the National Assembly, also includes a ban on smoking in children’s play areas in public parks and in cars carrying children under 12. In addition, advertising of e-cigarettes will be restricted before being banned in May 2016, except at the point of sale and in trade publications.

Ms Touraine says there are 13 million smokers in France – which has a population of around 66 million – and the “number of smokers is growing, especially among young people.”

“We can’t accept that tobacco kills 73,000 people every year in our country – the equivalent of a plane crash every day with 200 people on board,” she added.

The BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris says the move goes well beyond what France is required to do under European anti-smoking rules.

‘Completely incomprehensible’

EU laws already force tobacco firms to cover 65% of the packaging with health warnings, but Ms Touraine said they would be “the same shape, same size, same colour, same typeset” if the ban came into effect.

Celine Audibert, a spokeswoman for French firm Seita, which is a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco, described the move as “completely incomprehensible”.

“It’s based on the Australian experience which, more than a failure, was a complete fiasco,” added Ms Audibert.

In 2012, Australia forced all cigarettes to be sold in identical brown packets, largely covered with graphic health warnings.

Tobacco clearances, an indicator of tobacco volumes in the Australian market, fell 3.4% in 2013 compared with 2012.

But Australia also raised cigarette taxes that led to consumer prices increasing, creating doubt over which move made the most difference.

Perceptions of plain packaging among young adult roll-your-own smokers in France: a naturalistic approach



We explored, for the first time, young adult roll-your-own smokers’ response to using plain packaging in real-world settings.


Naturalistic research was employed, where 133 French young adult smokers (18-25 years of age) used plain roll-your-own packs for 10 days; the plain packs they were provided with contained their usual brand of rolling tobacco and displayed the name of their usual brand. Participants were recruited in five cities in France (Paris, Marseille, Metz, Nantes, Toulouse) and completed two questionnaires to measure their response to their own branded packs and the plain packs. Both questionnaires assessed pack perceptions, brand attachment, product perceptions (eg, taste, quality, natural), feelings about smoking (satisfying, pleasurable), feelings when using the pack in front of others (embarrassment, image), warning response (credibility, awareness of risks) and smoking-related behaviour (eg, consumption, quitting).


Compared to their own fully branded packs, plain packs were associated with less positive pack and product perceptions, lower brand attachment and less positive feelings about smoking and feelings when using the pack in front of others. Participants were also more likely to report feeling like reducing consumption and quitting when using the plain packs, and more likely to feel like missing out on rolling a cigarette. No significant differences between the two pack types (plain and branded) were found in terms of credibility of warnings and perceptions of level of tar.


The study suggests that the impacts of plain packaging for roll-your-own cigarette smokers are the same as for smokers of factory-made cigarettes.


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