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Plain Packaging

Cigarettes and plain packaging – new dataset says it works

It seems our carrying in good faith last week the data-selective assertions of Canadian journalist and development officer of ‘Students for Liberty,’ Yael Ossowski, that plain cigarette packaging does not work as a harm reduction tool, is way short of the full story. So short as to be untrue, says Yussuf Saloojee, Executive Director of SA’s National Council Against Smoking in his response below. He claims Ossowski is just plain wrong – and provides a wider data-set, making a strong case for plain packaging. Saloojee picks out a more convincing Australian data-set than the one Ossowski used. It’s one of those fields where trillions of dollars are at stake and smoke and mirrors are the order of the day. As I found out when once I tried to sift through the mountains of opposing data submitted by the protagonists in the e-cigarettes debate where the latest arena of battle is harm-reduction. Some international scientific heavyweights stack up on the side of e-cigarettes, like SA-born pioneering long distance swimmer and executive director of the Vitality Institute, Dr Derek Yach. Harm-reduction and preventative wellness medicine and exercise lie at the core of Discovery Health’s business model, hence the choice of former WHO executive Yach to head up their Institute. Yach was behind much of the ANC’s globally-admired, progressive smoking policies and evolving legislation. But he parts company with Saloojee on e-cigarettes and harm reduction, saying it’s the smoke that kills, not the nicotine (which e-cigs deliver, without the more harmful smoke). Here are the results of Saloojee’s foray into the scientific wizardry of Oz where this dataset seems to blow away some of the red outback dust that Ossowski stirred up. – Chris Bateman

By Yussuf Saloojee*

In Australia, the attractive colours and logos that increase the appeal of the cigarette pack, especially to children, have been replaced by honest, truthful information on the dangers of smoking. Cigarettes are now sold in plain packaging – that is, in dark brown packets with pictures of sick smokers on it.

And plain packaging works. Smoking rates have dropped to record lows since its introduction in late 2012.

The latest data from the Australian Secondary Student’s Alcohol and Drug survey show that between 2011 and 2014 the number of 12 to 17 year-old students who have never smoked increased from 77.4% to 80.5%. Adult smoking rates have also fallen. Among Australians aged 14 or older the number of people who smoke daily fell from 15.1% to 12.8% between 2010-13.

There are now 200,000 fewer smokers in this age group.

The tobacco industry knows that plain packaging lowers profits, so the industry and its cronies have resorted to falsely claiming that plain packaging is ineffective.

Further, the major cigarette companies are rapidly expanding into the e-cigarette business and would obviously benefit from growth in this market. So, to kill two birds with one stone, the industry proposes that plain packaging laws should be dropped and that e-cigarettes (or ‘vaping’) be promoted to reduce smoking. A win-win for the industry, as a measure that reduces sales would be replaced with one that increases profits.

The problem with this suggestion is that the majority of e-cigarette users still continue to smoke regular cigarettes and there is no health benefit if people both vapor and smoke. While the industry would profit from addiction by selling e-cigarettes alongside regular cigarettes, there would be no public health gain.

The decision to implement plain packaging in Australia was based upon extensive scientific evidence and the law has been upheld by the courts. Numerous other countries, including Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway, Chile and Singapore, are persuaded by this evidence and have now adopted or are considering adopting similar measures.

South Africa would be well advised to also do so, as plain packaging will help reduce the over 40,000 deaths caused by cigarettes each year.

Yussuf Saloojee, Exco Director of the SA National Council Against Smoking

Just one $2000 fine issued since tough new plain packaging laws introduced

Big tobacco has exploited a loophole in Australia’s world-first plain-packaging laws, which allowed smokers to ditch the now famous drab packaging.

The Department of Health has received 1054 individual complaints involving 746 cases since the December 2012 legislation banning tobacco companies from putting their products in anything other than dark olive brown packaging that feature graphic health warnings.

Of those cases, 459 were cleared and 135 warning letters were issued, according to figures revealed in a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday, with an ACT retailer receiving the only fine, paying $2040 for “non-compliant cigars”.

But the department could not say whether Imperial Tobacco, one of the world’s biggest tobacco companies, received a warning for producing what it described as a “fresher, premium product” for its Peter Stuyvesant brand which allowed customers to shed the government-mandated packaging and use a plain silver soft pack enclosed inside.

The Plain Packaging Act allows lining within the pack, but only foiled back paper, while also outlawing both inserts and onserts (a sticker that can go over existing packaging).

Departmental deputy secretary Wendy Southern told the hearing the Imperial insert, brought to the department’s attention by a media enquiry last year, was found to be an example “where clearly we believed it as circumventing the plain packaging legislation”, but there was some question over whether it constituted a breach.

“The department engaged with the manufacturer through correspondence and basically the company undertook to remove the product from the market,” she said, under questioning from Labor senator Murray Watt.

“So we have one of the biggest tobacco manufacturers in the world, quite deliberately circumventing these laws and nothing happens apart from an undertaking and that’s after several steps in the chain,” the Queensland senator asked.

“The undertaking is to remove it from the market, which is ultimately what we were seeking,” Dr Southern replied, adding that the way the legislation was crafted, there was a process of “escalation”.

The legislation sets out a maximum penalty of $36,000 for manufacturers who don’t comply.

A departmental spokesman told Fairfax Media the “vast majority” of tobacco manufacturers and retailers were obeying the legislation, but on the Imperial Tobacco matter there “were differing views on the compliance of the product with the legislation”.

“As a result of correspondence between the department and the company which did include warnings about the consequences of continued non-compliance, the company made a decision to withdraw the product from the market,” he said.

“The decision by the company to withdraw the product from the market, in this instance, avoided the potential for costly and protracted litigation with an uncertain outcome and achieved the compliance outcome sought by the department.”

He said the department received reports from Imperial on the withdrawal of the packs from sale.

Shadow health minister Catherine King said there was room to revisit the landmark legislation, which was created under the Rudd/Gillard governments, saying it was “critical” the laws were enforced.

“If the government believes the laws need strengthening to do this, then Labor will work with them as a priority. Or else they should explain why companies are being let off the hook,” she said.

The laws have seen early indications of success in other areas, with an Australian National University study finding calls to the quit hotlines increased by 78 per cent during the phase-in period, and sat above average for the next 10 months.

The department estimates 15,000 Australians die every year from smoking-related diseases and costs Australia more than $31 billion in social and economic costs.

Branded tobacco packaging rule riles BAT

The company warns a proposed ban on branded tobacco packaging poses a threat to British American Tobacco’s only cigarette plant in SA

British American Tobacco (BAT) says it may close SA’s only cigarette plant if plans to ban branded tobacco packaging are implemented.

BAT operates its eighth-largest factory in the world at Heidelberg, south of Johannesburg. The proposed new rules would threaten the financial viability of the operation, Joe Heshu, BAT’s head of external affairs in Southern Africa, said on Monday.

Plain packaging threatened the closure of the factory and “poses a threat to the viability of the legal tobacco industry in SA”, Heshu said. The move would make it harder to distinguish the cigarettes from black-market cigarettes and “the illegal market will benefit from having a cheaper product”, he said.

SA is cracking down on industries and products viewed as harmful to consumers, including through a planned tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said in February would be implemented later in 2017.

SA had drafted a bill mandating plain cigarette packaging, which was expected to be made available for public comment soon, Elize Joubert, CEO of the Cancer Association of SA, said on Friday.


“You don’t want to build jobs based on people who are sick,” said Joe Maila, a spokesman for the Department of Health. He declined to provide a time frame for the new rules.

Plain packaging of tobacco products, which has been championed globally by the World Health Organisation, requires standardised designs on cigarette packs.

BAT had cut 750 jobs in SA in two years as it grappled with an increase in illegal cigarettes, it said. The Heidelberg plant employs 1,100 people.

According to the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa, the supply, distribution and sale of smuggled or counterfeit tobacco products have cost the government more than R21bn since 2010 in lost tax revenue.


Slovenia adopts plain packaging

Congratulations to SFP Coalition Partners No excuse Slovenia and Slovenian Coalition for Public Health, Environment and Tobacco Control for their tireless advocacy to support this legislation in the last year.

On 15 February the Slovenian Parliament adopted the draft law proposed by the government without a single vote against. Plain packaging is expected to enter into force in 2020.

Briefly, the new Slovenian Tobacco law includes:

– Plain packaging (65% coverage with health warnings and quitting information)
– Introduction of license for selling tobacco products,
– Total display and Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) ban
– Prohibition of selling tobacco products with aromas and other additives
– Prohibition of smoking in cars with a minor present
– Prohibition of smoking indoors including E-cigarettes
– Mystery shopping/test purchasing by underage,
– Measures of prevention of illicit trade

Plain packs coming in 2020

Parliament unanimously approved a law to ban advertising for tobacco products and require uniform packaging from 2020, Reuters reported.

Slovenia joins countries like Australia and the UK in requiring a standard colour and branding on tobacco packaging. Roughly one-in-four Slovenians aged 15 to 64 smoke. Health Minister Milojka Kolar Celarc reportedly said the country wants to reduce the smoking rate to below 5 per cent of the adult Population.

Standardised Packaging and Tobacco Products Directive

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Slovenia Must not Flinch in Battle with Big Tobacco

The tobacco industry is doing its utmost to deter Slovenia from introducing plain cigarette packaging – it must not succeed.

When it comes to protecting public health, countries around the world have recently generated true momentum to save lives by turning the tide on tobacco use.

Many countries have implemented policies requiring tobacco products to be covered with large graphic warning images and mandated “plain” or standardised packaging to reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products.

The Slovenian government’s recent bold decision to put an anti-tobacco law to parliament that includes plain packaging, larger health warnings and a ban on the display of tobacco at the point of sale poises Slovenia to lead the region by joining the ranks of those nations fighting against the tobacco companies, and winning.

If Slovenians are to realize the benefits of living a healthy, tobacco-free life it is critical that MPs pass the law when it heads to parliament.

Tobacco use, projected to kill 1 billion people worldwide this century, is the world’s leading cause of preventable death. The tobacco industry, however, has made it clear that it has no intention of voluntarily abandoning a sinister business model that depends on millions of new, largely youth consumers – cynically referred to by the industry as “replacement smokers” – to take up tobacco annually to replace those that die from tobacco-related illnesses.

Despite filing multiple legal and trade challenges against strong anti-tobacco laws, the tobacco industry has been repeatedly defeated and isolated in domestic and international courts, as well as by trade organisations.

A prominent Slovenian intellectual property expert, Bojan Pretnar, has appeared in the media, made submissions to parliament and written a legal analysis opposing plain packaging, suggesting that the tobacco industry will sue and expose the Slovenian government to the risk of paying large sums in damages.

The flawed legal arguments he puts forward are the same as those used by the tobacco industry elsewhere.

His suggested remedy – to carve plain packaging out into a separate bill – mirrors the delay tactics the tobacco industry has used in other countries.

Rather than being dissuaded by tobacco industry threats, Slovenia should look to the outcomes of numerous cases where these same issues have been litigated in other countries.

In Britain, a tobacco industry legal challenge and subsequent appeal brought by British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Japan Tobacco International and Philip Morris International was dismissed last May and most recently in November.

The High Court judge in the case criticized the tobacco companies’ arguments and experts. Those trying to argue against plain packaging in Slovenia, are now relying on and using these same discredited arguments and experts.

In Australia, where the High Court dismissed a constitutional challenge to plain packaging laws in August 2012, a Philip Morris International legal claim under the Hong Kong-Australia bilateral investment treaty was dismissed in December 2015.

In France, both the Constitutional Council and the Council of State upheld plain packaging legislation following legal challenges.

In Uruguay, a Philip Morris International legal claim regarding packaging restrictions made under the Switzerland-Uruguay bilateral investment treaty was dismissed in July 2016.

In the European Union, the Court of Justice in May 2016 dismissed legal challenges brought by British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International and supported by Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Brands to the provision in the new Tobacco Products Directive that explicitly provides 28 EU countries with the option of implementing plain packaging.

In fact, tobacco companies have lost every legal claim against plain packaging in national, regional and international courts. In the UK challenge, the judge wrote: “In my judgment the qualitative evidence relied upon by the [government] is cogent, substantial and overwhelmingly one-directional in its conclusion” that plain packaging will be effective in meeting its objectives.

He added that the tobacco companies’ body of evidence “does not accord with internationally recognised best practice.”

Research conclusively shows that effective warning labels increase public knowledge of smoking risks, and can motivate smokers to quit, discourage non-smokers from starting and keep ex-smokers from starting again.

Standardised or plain packaging reduces tobacco product attractiveness and appeal to consumers, especially the young, increases the noticeability and effectiveness of the picture health warnings, and reduces the likelihood that product packaging misleads consumers about the harms of smoking.

A recent study by the Cancer Institute in New South Wales found that young Australians, aged 12 to 24, believe plain packaging made them less likely to take up smoking.

The group included ex-smokers, non-smokers, and experimental smokers. All national data sets show that smoking rates declined significantly since Australia introduced plain packaging.

One of the main but flawed arguments used to oppose plain packaging is that it will cause an increase in illicit or counterfeit tobacco products. The tobacco industry tries to make this claim when it opposes other measures, such as larger health warnings or advertising bans. But even the tobacco industry cannot produce any evidence to support this claim. In Australia, the illicit market has remained at the same level and no counterfeit “plain packs” have been found in four years.

Mandating effective warning labels and plain packaging for tobacco products are among the most effective steps that Slovenia and other countries can take to communicate the dangers of tobacco products, lessen their attractiveness and appeal, and reduce tobacco consumption, thereby protecting citizens.

We are at a critical juncture. Bold action to protect public health is needed and now is the time for countries to join the global movement and stand up to the tobacco industry.

Robert Eckford is the Associate Director of Trade and Investment Law for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an international organisation leading the fight to reduce tobacco use.

The opinions expressed in the Comment section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

Global tobacco control

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What are the new laws on cigarette and tobacco packaging and why are companies like Marlboro being stripped of their branding?

Familiar brands are soon to be a thing of the past with new laws set to come into force this year

CIGARETTES and tobacco products have already been hidden away behind the counter in an effort to stop people taking up smoking and help them quit the dangerous habit.

And this year new laws come into force meaning packets will lose their colourful packaging – including iconic brands such as Marlboro.

Here’s what the new laws mean and why they are being brought in.

Why plain cigarette packaging?

The aim of the laws are simple – to cut the number of people taking up smoking by making it less appealing to children and young people.

According to Cancer Research, two-thirds of smokers start before the age of 18 – the beginning of an addiction which will kill up to 2 in 3 long-term smokers.

Two-thirds of smokers start before they are 18, according to Cancer Research

Several studies have shown standard packs change attitudes and beliefs around smoking by reducing its appeal and making health warnings more prominent.

It is also believed to stem myths that some lighter-coloured packs are less harmful as they contain lower tar.

Standard packs also appear to be supported by most people, with a survey by YouGov in January 2015 revealing 72% support for standard packs compared to just 15% against.

When will the law come into force?

Technically, the law came into force on May 20 2016, but companies were given a 12-month grace period to sell their old packs and bring in standardised packaging.

From May this year, anyone caught selling non-plain packs will face severe penalties.

Has it been introduced anywhere else?

Australia has had standardised packs since December 2012, and figures suggest smoking has declined since then.

The number of daily smokers is reported to have fallen by 3% since 2010 to just 13% of the population.

France has also banned branded packs, with laws coming into force on January 1.

What will new plain cigarette packs look like?

All packs will be a single colour “opaque couche” – a muddy green – described as the world’s ugliest colour.

Brand names will be written in standard font, size and location on the pack, with health warnings covering at least 65% of the box, on the front, back and top.

And there will be no side-sliding packs.

Are there any other changes?

Menthol cigarettes are being banned from 2020, as well as 10-packs because the boxes are too small to carry a big enough health warning.

Rolling tobacco will only be allowed in packs of 30g or more.

How have tobacco companies reacted?

Four of the world’s biggest tobacco firms launched a last-ditch legal bid against the move, but it failed.

They claimed the new regulations violated several UK and EU laws and would destroy their property rights by making products indistinguishable from each other.

They also claimed there was a lack of evidence that plain packaging would deter smokers.

Smokers’ rights group Forest also said the new rules “treat adults like children and teenagers like idiots”.

Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International appealed the laws in the High Court last year.

But Mr Justice Green dismissed all their grounds, saying: “The regulations were lawful when they were promulgated by Parliament and they are lawful now in the light of the most up-to-date evidence.”

Consultation Summary: “Plain and Standardized Packaging” for Tobacco Products

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