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Plain packaging is a weapon against the centrepiece of tobacco promotion

Australia’s plain cigarette packaging legislation is a weapons-grade public health policy that is causing apoplexy in the international tobacco industry, according to an article published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.

Prof Simon Chapman, from the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, writes that the legislation has led to desperate attempts by global tobacco companies to prevent the looming end to the industry’s centrepiece of tobacco promotion – the lure of the pack.

“After more than 15 years, the tobacco industry dodo is back and walking among us, attempting to fly,” Professor Chapman said.

“The tobacco industry’s current undisguised panic shows that plain packs will hit them very hard.

“Its blank-cheque advertising campaigns, imploring the government to desist, say to anyone with half a brain that the industry knows that plain packs will ‘kill their business’.

“That’s precisely the plan.

“From the beginning of the 20th century, when machine-manufactured cigarettes were first marketed, the advertising and packaging industries did all they could to portray cigarettes as a means of signalling personal identity to the young as they took up smoking.

“[For example] a callow youth who wouldn’t be seen dead with an Alpine felt assured by the promise of masculinity in pulling out a packet of Marlboros.

“But, from next year, all cigarette packages will look the same, distinguished only by the brand name in standard typeface.

“Australia’s historic plain cigarette packaging legislation is likely to have little effect on heavily dependent smokers, who tend to be brand-loyal and less image-conscious but, without branding, future generations will grow up never having seen category A carcinogens packaged in attractive packs.

“Today’s 19-year-olds have never seen local tobacco advertising and youth smoking rates are at an all-time low.

“Plain packs will turbocharge this trend, making smoking history,” Prof Chapman said.

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

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