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Australia

SmokeFree Tasmania and Minister trade barbs

A war of words has erupted between the Health Minister Michael Ferguson and advocacy group, SmokeFree Tasmania, after it accused the government of bowing to the wishes of big tobacco companies.

http://www.examiner.com.au/story/4691300/government-slams-smoke-group-claims/

The stoush comes after Tasmania was named runner-up in the Australian Medical Association’s Dirty Ashtray Award – for governments that make the least effort to reduce smoking.

Responding to the second placing, Health Minister Michael Ferguson said the state would achieve better scores from the association as more policies aimed at reducing smoking rates were implemented.

But SmokeFree Tasmania north member Harley Stanton said the government had included suggestions from big tobacco companies to formulate its Healthy Tasmania Strategic Plan.

“Given that the Tasmanian government, in its healthy Tasmania policy, included advice from Imperial Tobacco it is not surprising that they have been nationally rebuked,” he said.

“This is both embarrassing internationally and bad conduct for any government.”

Fellow SmokeFree Tasmania adviser Kathryn Barnsley said the government needed to distance itself from tobacco companies.

She said the benefit of the government’s crusade on the illicit tobacco market benefited tobacco companies, like Imperial Tobacco.

“The tobacco industry wants the government to crack down on illicit tobacco, but the illicit market is not a health problem,” she said.

But Mr Ferguson slammed the comments as “complete and utter rubbish”.

“I also point out for the record that last year, the government proposed as part of the five-year plan raising the smoking age to 21, and SmokeFree Tasmania aggressively campaigned against it which is inexplicable,” he said.

Dr Barnsley said the government had also failed to provide more money for mass-media campaigns to reduce smoking rates.

Dr Stanton criticised the government’s health expenditure announced in last week’s budget.

“Prevention is better than a cure and reducing the number of people smoking will take pressure off our hospitals,” he said.

Big Tobacco is losing the fight to stop plain packaging of cigarettes

Dr Enrico Bonadio, a Senior Lecturer in the City Law School, says the tobacco industry’s bid to avoid plain packaging by relying on legal arguments around trade and intellectual property rights, is being systematically dismissed by courts around the world.

https://www.city.ac.uk/news/2017/may/big-tobacco-is-losing-the-fight-to-stop-plain-packaging-of-cigarettes

You may already have seen the tobacco packs currently sold in the UK: a dark, murky green colour with large graphic health-warning images and scary messages aimed at informing current and potential smokers about the devastating consequences of tobacco consumption. They have no colourful logos, with the brand name just displayed in small characters in a standard font.

These packs are now required by new regulations which entered into force in May 2016. There has been a one-year transitional period for the sell-through of old stock – and from May 20 2017 all tobacco products on sale in the UK must comply with the new rules.

The legislative move has been recommended to all countries by the World Health Organisation to reduce the attractiveness of smoking and eventually reduce consumption. Australia was the first country to introduce such strict packaging requirements in December 2012. France and, of course, the UK have since followed suit.

It follows significant research that shows these new standardised cigarette packs are much less appealing to consumers – and young people especially.
The industry’s legal defeats

No wonder tobacco companies have challenged the measure in the courts. They have argued that it is useless, too harsh – and is an infringement of their fundamental and intellectual property rights, especially trademarks. Yet, their claims are based on weak arguments and have been rejected by both the High Court of England and Wales and the Court of Appeal.

The tobacco industry has faced numerous courtroom defeats of late. Last year Uruguay won a landmark case against the Swiss giant Philip Morris International. The company had sued the Latin American state after it introduced two measures affecting tobacco packaging and trademarks. These were mandatory graphic health warnings covering 80% of cigarette packets (a measure very close to plain packaging) and the obligation for tobacco companies to adopt a single presentation for their brands, dropping for example the “gold” and “blue” descriptors, that could lead smokers to believe one variant was safer than another.

The fact that the courts sided with Uruguay would have been encouraging to other countries aiming to introduce controls on tobacco packaging. And even greater encouragement came recently from a World Trade Organisation ruling which deemed that the plain packaging requirements introduced by Australia as compliant with international trade and intellectual property rules – and are therefore a legitimate public health measure.

The decision has not been officially announced, but a confidential draft of the interim ruling was leaked to the media and the final decision is expected later this year. The Australian measure had been challenged at the WTO tribunal by Cuba, Dominican Republic, Indonesia and Honduras, countries whose economies strongly rely on the tobacco industry.

A domino effect

This is a blow to the industry. The short-term consequences of the WTO ruling – Imperial Tobacco’s shares fell more than 2% after the decision was leaked – reflects the longer-term danger that this ruling poses. It will likely convince other states to introduce plain packaging legislation without fear of violating international trade and intellectual property laws. It basically gives them a green light by removing the regulatory chilling effect that such legal action has produced on countries that wanted to follow Australia’s example.

After all, more and more countries seem interested in adopting standardised packaging. As well as France and the UK, Ireland and Norway will introduce packaging restrictions later in 2017, and Hungary in 2018. Many other states are debating similar measures, including New Zealand, Canada, Belgium, Slovenia, Belgium, Singapore and Thailand.

So, a legislative trend has started which aims to restrict the ability of tobacco manufacturers to make their products appealing to consumers by using eye-catching words, logos or ornamental features on the pack. And attempts by Big Tobacco to stop it by relying on legal arguments around trade and intellectual property rights are being systematically dismissed by courts around the world.

Ultimately, the industry needs to accept the fact that its ability to use fancy brands, especially on packaging, may be reduced by governments for public health reasons. Also that a company’s property rights are not absolute or untouchable. Not only does it not have enough legal basis – as has now been confirmed by several courts and tribunals – but it also disregards legitimate policies adopted by democratically elected governments.

Organised crime syndicates smuggling ‘low risk’ tobacco leaf and cigarettes into Australia

ORGANISED crime syndicates trafficking drugs like ice and cocaine are now smuggling tobacco leaf and cigarettes and funnelling the cash back to terrorist groups.

http://www.geelongadvertiser.com.au/news/national/organised-crime-syndicates-smuggling-low-risk-tobacco-leaf-and-cigarettes-into-australia/news-story/81507f303ce6c7005b0f764afc10fe9b?nk=4a17044c8404afede5aa34fab4c90734-1490219416

With government taxes on tobacco set to rise again in May’s federal Budget, black market tobacco leaf and cigarettes are now as profitable as narcotics.

And such is the “low risk high return” market, Federal law enforcement now have credible evidence monies from tobacco trafficking are supporting terrorist groups in the Middle East.

Lead national crime fighting agency Australian Border Force intelligence has flagged a noticeable shift in the pattern of trafficking of tobacco which is rising exponentially, in ordinary postal mail alone by 10 to 15 per cent every year.

According to figures obtained by News Corp Australia, in January last year 3.6 million sticks of cigarettes and 435kg of loose leaf tobacco was intercepted at the nation’s main foreign parcel receiving facility in Sydney through which 75 per cent of all mail nationally passes through.

But this January, the latest monthly figure available, 5 million sticks and more than 1 tonne of loose leaf was intercepted.

Last year’s record average was 150 tonnes of loose leaf and 40 million sticks seized but this year that’s expected to be significantly eclipsed.

The difference has been the emergence of serious organised crime groups as opposed to opportunists taking over the trade almost in entirety.

“It’s all about the money,” one frontline ABF officer involved in the fight said.

“Those who were sending drugs are now involved, because the profit is there. We will recognise the mail coming through as being from the same criminal syndicate … over the last 12 months with tobacco we are actually seeing the exporters using the methodologies we would normally see with drugs.”

Such is the profit margin, ABF recently seized a teddy bear with just four packets of cigarettes sewn into it, a considerable effort for just $60 profit but in multiple individual teddy parcels it could be considerable.

Most of the illicit cigarettes, some of which ends up on the shelves of legitimate corner shops, is from South Korea, Japan, China and Hong Kong while loose leaf is mostly from Indonesia and the Middle East.

Some of it is manufactured legally but with the intention to import it specifically to Australia (evidenced in their plain packaging) to avoid duties or to fuel the black market with foreign markings and brands.

While the trafficking alone is a concern so to are its national security implications.

It has been learnt Australia’s multiagency counter terrorism agents, including the ABF, Australian Federal Police and ASIO, have been warned by overseas counterparts notably both US and French authorities and Interpol that the tobacco smuggling industry was being taken over by terrorist networks.

Specifically suspects linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban in Pakistan, Hezbollah in Lebanon and elements linked with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghred (AQIM) in North Africa, Islamic State (ISIS) and even Colombian militant group FARC who traditionally have been involved almost exclusively just in cocaine production.

Australian authorities have intelligence of targets here believed to be in the tobacco smuggling trade and sympathetic and or indirectly linked to the Islamic extremist cause of both Hezbollah and ISIS.

Authorities have conceded the thresholds that have to be established for a prosecution with proof of knowledge and proof of origin are substantial and hard to make, not helped by suspected corrupt import brokers and freight handlers.

Earlier this month, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) told a parliamentary joint committee inquiry into illicit tobacco it was a “low risk high reward” trafficking industry and as such high-end criminals were using profits to fund into other criminal enterprises.

This included those with jihadist terror links, although sensitivities around element prompted a request for the evidence to be heard behind closed doors.

There was evidence just one successful import out of 20 attempts from the Middle East was all that was needed to turn a profit.

In 2015, the ABF recognised the rise in tobacco smuggling and the potential loss to government in tax revenue and created a dedicated strike team.

The level of illegal trafficking attempts is expected to rise significantly with a 12.5 per cent increase in excise and customs duties to come in this September under the Federal Government’s May budget, to make the average cost of a packet of cigarettes the most expensive in the world at up to $40 a packet.

AMP snuffs out tobacco investment

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/personal-finance/news/article.cfm?c_id=12&objectid=11821645

AMP Capital is to snuff out its investment in tobacco manufacturing companies including millions of dollars invested through its KiwiSaver funds.

The move is part of a decision to pull out of tobacco investments worth A$440 million across its global investment portfolio.

The asset manager will also pull its Australian investments out of cluster munitions, landmines, biological and chemical weapons companies.

The move follows on from its New Zealand arm which pulled out of these investments last year following reports by the New Zealand Herald and Radio New Zealand which highlighted KiwiSaver’s exposure to the controversial sectors.

AMP Capital chief executive Adam Tindall said it had excluded tobacco manufacturers under a new environmental, social and governance and socially responsible framework because their products were highly addictive, could not be consumed safely and impacted non users via second-hand smoke.

He said cluster munitions, landmines, biological and chemical weapons manufacturers were excluded because their products indiscriminately kill through normal use (including during peace time) and their use leaves a legacy of significant and specific danger for civilians.

“We are not prepared to deliver investment returns to customers at any cost to society.

This position has been affirmed through consultation with major institutional clients and engagement with retail customers.”

Divestment from the tobacco investments would occur progressively over 2017 the company said, with impacted investors notified prior to any changes being made.

“The managers of impacted portfolios will be instructed to progressively sell down their holdings of excluded securities in a reasonable manner. This may take up to 12 months from time of formal notification,” a spokeswoman said.

Last year the Herald identified AMP Capital’s KiwiSaver funds had $17,169,091 invested in tobacco companies in the year to March 31, 2015.

It also has investment funds outside of KiwiSaver which are likely to include tobacco investments.

The AMP spokeswoman said it was not giving a regional breakdown for its tobacco investment.

$127 Billion Australian Manager Dumps Tobacco, Weapons Investing

Australia’s largest publicly traded wealth manager is ditching stock and debt investments in companies with ties to tobacco, cluster munitions and land mines, in the latest push for ethical investing in the nation.

AMP Capital Investors, the investment management arm of AMP Ltd., is dumping about A$440 million ($338 million) worth of investments in tobacco manufacturing-related companies and about A$130 million in land mine and cluster munition manufacturers. The moves come as AMP Capital rolls out a new decision- making framework across its A$165 billion investment portfolio, the wealth manager said in a March 16 statement.

“We are not prepared to deliver investment returns to customers at any cost to society,” AMP Capital Chief Executive Officer Adam Tindall said in the statement. “AMP Capital has a long-term focus on responsible investing supported by an integrated approach to considering ESG factors across all asset classes.”

Growing Demand

The money manager’s decision comes amid burgeoning demand for ethical investments in Australia’s A$2.2 trillion retirement savings pool. Assets at funds that screen out investments that don’t meet ethical investing criteria grew by 16 percent to A$24.7 billion in 2015-16, according to the Responsible Investment Association Australasia.

AMP, which also controls insurance and banking businesses Down Under, will implement a new framework that considers harm as well as “denial of humanity” when determining investment decisions. Tobacco manufacturers were culled under the framework because their products were addictive, while cluster munitions and biological weapons would “indiscriminately kill through normal use,” the company said.

The sales of the stakes will occur progressively throughout 2017, AMP said in the statement. The company engaged the help of consulting group, The Ethics Centre, to create its ethical investing framework, according to the statement.

“AMP Capital still firmly believes in company engagement in order to effect meaningful change,” Tindall said. “In the case of tobacco, cluster munitions, land mines, biological and chemical weapons manufacturers, however, no engagement can override the inherent dangers involved with their products.”

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

http://www.biznews.com/health/2017/03/06/cigarettes-plain-packaging/

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.

http://www.smh.com.au/national/health/just-one-2000-fine-issued-since-tough-new-plain-packaging-laws-introduced-20170301-guoiu4.html

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.

Doctors Lobby Group Would Welcome Arthur Sinodinos as Health Minister

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The effect of pack warning labels on quitting

The effect of pack warning labels on quitting and related thoughts and behaviours in a national cohort of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers

Anna Nicholson, GDipPH, BPhty(Hons) PhD Ron Borland, PhD Pele Bennet, BHSc Maureen Davey, MB BS FAFPHM Jasmine Sarin, BHSci(Indig Hlth) Anke Van der Sterren, MPH MA BA Matthew Stevens, PhD David Thomas, MB BS PhD FAFPHM

https://academic.oup.com/ntr/article-abstract/doi/10.1093/ntr/ntw396/2871245/The-effect-of-pack-warning-labels-on-quitting-and

Abstract

Introduction:

The high prevalence of smoking among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia (39%) contributes substantially to health inequalities. This study assesses the impact of warning labels on quitting and related thoughts and behaviours for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers.

Methods:

Participants were recruited from communities served by 34 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and communities in the Torres Strait, Australia, using quota sampling. A cohort of 642 daily/weekly smokers completed relevant questions at baseline (April 2012-October 2013) and follow up (August 2013-August 2014).

Results:

We considered three baseline predictor variables: noticing warning labels, forgoing cigarettes due to warning labels (‘forgoing’) and perceiving labels to be effective.

Forgoing increased significantly between surveys only for those first surveyed prior to the introduction of plain packs (19% vs. 34%), however there were no significant interactions between forgoing cigarettes and the introduction of new and enlarged graphic warning labels on plain packaging in any model. Forgoing cigarettes predicted attempting to quit (AOR: 1.45, 95% CI: 1.02-2.06) and, among those who did not want to quit at baseline, wanting to quit at follow-up (AOR: 3.19, 95% CI: 1.06-9.63).

Among those less worried about future health effects, all three variables predicted being very worried at follow-up. Often noticing warning labels predicted correct responses to questions about health effects that had featured on warning labels (AOR: 1.84, 95% CI: 1.20-2.82) but not for those not featured.

Conclusions:

Graphic warning labels appear to have a positive impact on the understanding, concerns and motivations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers and, through these, their quit attempts.

IMPLICATIONS

Graphic warning labels are likely to be effective for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers as they are for the broader Australian population.

ACCC proposes to deny authorisation for tobacco companies

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued a draft determination proposing to deny authorisation to British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, and Philip Morris (the tobacco companies) to jointly stop supply to retailers or wholesalers they believe are supplying illicit tobacco.

http://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/accc-proposes-to-deny-authorisation-for-tobacco-companies

The ACCC considers that having the three dominant tobacco companies working together, sharing information, and making decisions about whether or not to supply particular retailers raises competition concerns.

“The ACCC is concerned about the potential for the sharing of information broadly, and that, for example, the proposed arrangements could be used to selectively target retailers that stock competing brands. This could result in detriment to businesses that may be wrongly or mistakenly subject to a joint decision of the applicants to cease supply, without any opportunity for independent review of that decision,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

These three tobacco companies are the major suppliers of legal tobacco products in Australia. They have proposed the arrangements to reduce the supply of illicit tobacco in Australia.

“While we agree that reducing illicit tobacco sales is in the public interest, we are not satisfied these proposed arrangements would reduce trade in illicit tobacco sufficiently to offset the likely detriments,” Mr Sims said.

The ACCC expects to release its final decision in February 2017.

Further information about the application for authorisation is available on the ACCC Authorisations Register.