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Plain packing push gets tick of approval Market watch top headlines

August 22 2011, 7:45PM

A federal parliamentary committee has dismissed as “insubstantial and superficial” big tobacco’s claim that there is no evidence to suggest plain packaging of cigarettes will cut smoking rates.

The Gillard government wants to force all cigarettes to be sold in drab olive-brown packs from mid-2012 in order to reduce the product’s allure and make mandatory health warnings clearer.

Manufacturers told an inquiry into Labor’s draft laws that there was no evidence to suggest the world-first move would actually deliver health benefits.

But the lower house health committee rejected that argument.

“The committee considers that criticisms of the evidence base … were insubstantial and, on the whole, superficial,” it said in an advisory report released on Monday.

“Notably, the fact that plain packaging has not been introduced in other countries should not function as a deterrent to passage of the legislation.

The Labor-dominated committee said the plain-packaging push demonstrated Australia’s willingness to take the lead in tobacco control.

Indeed, it was told by the Canadian Cancer Society that Australia was a potential “role model” for other countries considering the move.

Quit Victoria gave evidence that there were 30 “rigorous experimental studies” examining the influence of tobacco packaging.

“(It was) reported that all of these studies had concluded that the packaging of cigarettes was an important marketing device for cigarette manufacturers, and that a reduction in branding had made cigarettes less attractive, and had increased the power of graphic health warnings,” the advisory report states.

Big tobacco argued plain packaging could make it easier for counterfeit products to enter Australia and see legitimate manufacturers compete on price rather than brand.

But again the health committee wasn’t convinced.

“The committee notes Australia has a strong customs and quarantine regime and that there are also a range of sophisticated anti-counterfeiting measures which could be adopted,” it said.

“The committee does not find the argument that the legislation will lead to unintended negative health consequences to be convincing.”

Committee chair Steve Georganas said public health advocates “overwhelmingly” believed the evidence in support of plain packaging was sufficiently robust to proceed.

The Heart Foundation welcomed the committee’s findings and called on parliament to pass the draft laws which are due to be debated in the lower house on Wednesday.

“We urge all political parties to get on with ending the tobacco industry’s marketing of death in glossy boxes,” the foundation said in a statement.

The opposition last week said it would support the main enabling legislation but not an associated bill which aims to ensure plain packaging won’t affect big tobacco’s ability to protect trademarks for use other than on packs.

But Health Minister Nicola Roxon believes the government has enough support to get both bills through parliament without opposition support.

By Julian Drape

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