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July 5th, 2011:

Australia Brings Tobacco Legislation to Parliament

Asian Wall Street Journal – 5 July 2011

SYDNEY—Australia’s government introduced into parliament new laws banning advertisements on cigarette packets Wednesday, setting up a legal battle against the world’s biggest tobacco companies.

Under the proposed laws, Canberra wants to be the first government in the world to restrict logos, branding, colors and promotional text on tobacco packets beginning in January 2012. Product names will appear in standard colors and positions in a regular font and size on packets colored a dark olive-brown, which government research has found holds the lowest appeal to smokers.

Health warnings with graphic images of the harmful effects of smoking will have to make up 75% of the front of the packaging and 90% of the back.

“This world first initiative sends a clear message that the glamour is gone from smoking,” Health Minister Nicola Roxon said in a statement.

Philip Morris International Inc., the world’s largest tobacco company by revenue, last month warned Australia’s government it will challenge the decision in the courts and will seek billions of dollars in financial compensation.

British American Tobacco PLC—the biggest cigarette seller in Australia—has also warned it could pursue legal action, while Imperial Tobacco Group PLC is also opposed to the measures.

The new laws have the backing of the center-right opposition coalition and are expected to be passed by both the lower and upper house of parliament.

Write to Enda Curran at

What a drag … Iceland considers prescription-only cigarettes

Guardian newspaper – 5 July 2011

Tobacco bill proposes outlawing shop sales, with only doctors allowed to prescribe cigarettes to addicts unable to kick habit

Iceland is considering banning the sale of cigarettes and making them a prescription-only product.

The parliament in Reykjavik is to debate a proposal that would outlaw the sale of cigarettes in normal shops. Only pharmacies would be allowed to dispense them – initially to those aged 20 and up, and eventually only to those with a valid medical certificate.

The radical initiative is part of a 10-year plan that also aims to ban smoking in all public places, including pavements and parks, and in cars where children are present. Iceland also wants to follow Australia’s lead by forcing tobacco manufacturers to sell cigarettes in plain, brown packaging plastered with health warnings rather than branding.

Under the mooted law, doctors will be encouraged to help addicts kick the habit with treatments and education programmes. If these do not work, they may prescribe cigarettes.

The private member’s bill is sponsored by former health minister Siv Fridleifsdottir, who worked with the Icelandic Medical Association as well as a coalition of anti-tobacco groups to come up with the proposal. “The aim is to protect children and youngsters and stop them from starting to smoke,” she said on Monday. The proposal would initially result in an increase in cigarette prices, said Fridleifsdottir, of “10% per year, in line with World Health Organisation proposals – evidence shows that a 10% increase results in a 4-8% reduction in consumption”.

But by the end of the 10-year plan, prescription-only cigarettes should actually be cheaper than ever, according to Thorarinn Gudnason, president of the Icelandic Society of Cardiology, who helped draw up the proposal.

“Under our plan, smokers who are given prescriptions will be diagnosed as addicts, and we don’t think the government should tax addicts.”

Gudnason said current cigarette pricing in Iceland did not take into account the huge costs imposed on society by smokers. “A packet currently costs around 1,000 krona [£5.50], but if you factor in the cost of sick leave, reduced productivity due to smoking breaks and premature retirement on health grounds, it should really be 3,000 krona,” he said.

The tobacco proposal also says that nicotine should be classed as an addictive substance. “It’s as hard to give up nicotine as heroin, not in terms of the side effects, but in terms of the cravings and how quickly one becomes addicted,” said Gudnason.

“We also want the government to license cigarettes like a medicine, which would mean they would have to go through the same rigorous trials as any other drug. I doubt cigarettes would ever get on the market now that we know the side-effects – lung cancer, heart attacks, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

Gudnason said 300 out of the 1,500 deaths in Iceland each year were caused by one of those three conditions.

“That’s 20% of all deaths. We think that our proposals could lead to a significant reduction in smoking-related deaths – perhaps down to just 100 annually.”

The proposal also suggests that tobacco smoke should be treated as a carcinogenic substance, and that it should be restricted in a similar way to other known carcinogens, because of the known effects of passive smoking.

Gudnason did a study five months after Iceland introduced a smoking ban in restaurants and pubs in 2007 and found a 21% reduction in acute coronary syndrome (heart attacks and near heart attacks) among non-smoking men, compared to five months before the ban.

A spokeswoman from the Icelandic ministry of welfare said on Monday that the proposal was “very serious” but had limited chances of success.

“Siv Fridleifsdottir is a very serious politician and this is a very serious proposal,” said Anna Baldursdottir, political adviser to the minister of welfare, Gudbjartur Hannesson.

“Whether it not it eventually becomes law, I do not know. I seriously doubt it.”

The idea will be debated in the Althing, Iceland’s parliament, in the autumn, when politicians return from recess, she added.

Iceland has successfully halved smoking rates over the past 20 years. In 1991, 30% of the population smoked; today, only about 15% light up regularly, according to Baldursdottir, giving it the lowest smoking rates in Europe.

This success is attributed to huge increases in tobacco tax, which accounts for about 25% of the pack price, as well as the drop in disposable income among islanders since the financial crash of 2008.

Other countries have gone further. Bhutan has completely outlawed smoking and Finland hopes to follow suit by 2040.

Swedish surgeons now refuse to operate on smokers until they give up, because of the deleterious effect smoking has on the healing process, Gudnason added.

As an isolated island, Iceland arguably stands a greater chance of success with such draconian measures than other nations.

With no neighbouring countries and rigid customs controls at ports and airports, it will be difficult for anyone to smuggle in contraband cigarettes.

High tobacco tax increase has led to large drop in sales of cigarettes

South China Morning Post – 5 July 2011

I refer to the letter from Markus Shaw (“A lot of puff about new cigarette tax”, June 23). Yet again Mr Shaw seeks to repeat the PR spin of big tobacco by attempting to equate tobacco smoking with junk food and alcohol use.

Passive smoking kills innocent bystanders – 1,400 people out of 7,000 total smoking deaths a year here – whereas junk food and alcohol affect the product users not bystanders. Mr Shaw says the health secretary should instead comment on air pollution.

The Hedley online index shows the deaths attributable to pollution in 2010 were 792, being 11 per cent of the deaths attributable to smoking, while smoking itself is a serious form of air pollution.

Mr Shaw states the increased tax will deny “pleasure” to the poor and present an opportunity for crime.

The people most in need of quitting are the poor who can then spend more on their families and add 10 years to their lifespan with them. In the past two years, 65 per cent of contraband cigarettes seized by the Customs and Excise Department were genuine tobacco products and, of those, 7 per cent were marked “HK Duty Not Paid”, obviously leaked from our duty free outlets. It is a fact proved worldwide that the tobacco companies deliberately fail to control their supply chains, allowing unscrupulous elements to supply the illicit market.

The government has injected an additional HK$42 million in 2011 towards increased free cessation therapy and products. Mr Shaw further states the tax increase oppresses a minority. In 2010, when there was no budget excise tax increase, the legal sales of cigarettes in Hong Kong were: March, 53.9 million; April, 114 million; May, 225.7 million. After the tax increase announced in February’s budget, the numbers were: March, 6.1 million; April, 45.2 million; May, 75.5 million. Even the blinkered can see the tax increase is a positive preventive health measure. We have probably the most efficient Customs and Excise Department in the world and statistics show that the seizures and quantities have declined dramatically since 2007.

The only oppression of this health measure is on the dwindling profits of the tobacco companies. The University of Hong Kong’s department of community medicine study (1998) shows that the cost to Hong Kong society including loss of life per year was HK$72 billion; this will now be far higher in equivalent 2011 terms.

James Middleton, chairman, Clear the Air