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August 26th, 2014:

Plain packaging leaves smokers with bad taste

A study by Newcastle medical researchers has found since the introduction of plain packaged cigarettes, many smokers are unable to identify the different brands.

The study took place before and after plain packaging was introduced and involved long-term smokers in the Hunter region.

The University of Newcastle study found the introduction of plain packaged cigarettes impacted smokers’ perception of how they taste.

Research associate Ashleigh Guillaumier says many smokers said all cigarettes now taste the same, showing the power branding has had on consumers.

“After plain packs hit the shelves they were saying that they’d noticed a deterioration in both the taste and the quality of their cigarettes,” he said.

“I think this study really shows the power of the branding and that’s one of the reasons why the tobacco industry fought so hard against the introduction of plain packs in Australia.”

15 Jul 2014

Australia wins first battle in plain packaging trade dispute

July 2, 2014

Australia has had a victory in the first step of the plain packaging challenge being played out in an international investment tribunal.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has ordered that Australia will be allowed to challenge Philip Morris Asia’s right to contest our plain packaging laws, on the grounds that the company only bought shares in its Australian arm so that it could launch the case.

If Australia wins, it could see the legal challenge wrap up far earlier than expected, at far less cost, as well being a blow to corporations that engage in “treaty shopping”, or buying shares in countries to use trade treaties to their advantage.

Jonathan Liberman, the director of the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, said the tribunal had essentially decided to agree to the request to split the case in two because they had accepted that Australia’s objections were, on the face of it, ”serious and substantial”.

Australia believes the fact that Philip Morris Asia only acquired its shares in the Australian company 10 months after the government had announced it would implement plain packaging means it does not rightly fall under a trade agreement we have with Hong Kong.

”The Australian Government argues that an investor cannot buy into a dispute by making an investment at the time when a dispute is either existing or highly probable,” Mr Liberman wrote in an update on the case.

In addition, the government believes Philip Morris Asia made ”false and misleading” claims when it applied to buy Philip Morris Australia and filled in a statutory notice explaining why it was intending to do so.

”It argues that the true purpose of Philip Morris Asia’s investment was to place [it] in a position where it could bring the claim once the legislation had been enacted,” he said.

It was on these two objections that the tribunal decided to split the case, hearing them before any full case was to proceed.

“The fact that they have decided they were worth hearing first means they think they have a substantial chance of success,” Mr Liberman said. ”If Australia wins on these grounds, it will set an important precedent. It would send a clear message that this kind of ‘treaty-shopping’ behaviour should not be allowed.”

Professor of health policy at Curtin University Mike Daube said if Australia won, even on jurisdictional grounds, it would inspire confidence in other countries.

”It is clearly in the industry’s interests to keep dragging this process on, because the longer it’s going on, the longer they can say it is under review,” he said, adding the company had tried to have all the hearings held in secret.

”We’ve already had the High Court victory, and as soon as a big international decision goes that will send out a pretty big signal.”

Chris Argent, a spokesman for Philip Morris, said it would be inappropriate to respond to Australia’s allegations outside of the tribunal.

But he said the plain packaging laws entailed the destruction of brands.

“Building a brand is a long-term, significant investment that international law protects from arbitrary government action of exactly the sort at the heart of our claim,” he said. “The forced removal of our brands and trademarks by the Australian Government is a clear violation of the terms of the bilateral investment treaty between Australia and Hong Kong, and we believe we have a very strong case for actual damages that may amount to billions of Australian dollars.”

“The transfer of ownership of the Australian operation to PM Asia occurred long before plain packaging was adopted.”

Plunge in smoking attributed to plain packaging

July 17, 2014

Harriet Alexander

A dramatic decline in smoking rates has coincided with the introduction of plain-packaging laws.

The daily smoking rate plunged from 15.1 per cent to 12.8 per cent between 2010 and 2013, according to the largest and longest-running national survey on drug statistics.

Most people are now 16 before they smoke their first full cigarette, up from 14 in 2010, and 95 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds have never smoked.

Public health experts say the findings of the National Drugs Strategy Household Survey vindicate plain-packaging laws, which tobacco companies recently claimed to have boosted cigarette sales by leading to a price war.

“It’s almost like finding a vaccine that works very well against lung cancer,” said Simon Chapman, a professor in public health at the University of Sydney.

“It’s that big. This will give enormous momentum to the international push for plain packaging right around the world.”

India and France are considering plain packaging laws. Ireland, New Zealand and Britain have legislation before their parliaments.

The survey of nearly 24,000 Australians was conducted between July and December 2013, before the new 12.5 per cent tobacco tax.

“We know that that tax has a lot of influence over consumption so it’s really important that the data was collected before that,” Professor Chapman said.

“The only thing that happened in the 12 months before that was the introduction of plain packaging laws.”

Geoff Neideck of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which conducts the survey every two to three years, said the results were continued a longer trend, which has seen smoking rates halved since 1991.

The plain-packaging laws should be seen in the context of changing attitudes and cultural practices, he said.

Sixteen-year-old Gabe Hutcheon said on Wednesday he had no desire to try smoking.

“My granddad died from it, so I’ll go my whole life without smoking,” he said.

“It’s expensive, but I don’t care about that. All the ads show what it can do.”

The price of the the average packet of cigarettes has been in a steep upward trajectory since 2000.

Gemma Jones, 16, agreed, although she doubted whether the plain packaging was a deterrent.

“If people want to smoke they will do it,” she said. “It’s stupid, smells like shit and it kills people.”

The president of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, Mike Daube, said they were the best results he had seen in his 40-year career in health policy.

The National Preventative Health Taskforce in 2009 set a target of 10 per cent adult prevalence by 2018.

” I think we are now going to beat that, and once we’re below 10 per cent I think we will see an even faster decline as smoking essentially becomes an abnormal behaviour,” Professor Daube said.

He attributed the figures to effective media campaigns, tax increases and bipartisan political approach to reducing smoking, as well as the plain packaging laws.

“The plain packaging has been a crucial factor in the last two to three years,” he said.

– with Eryk Bagshaw

World Health Organisation says Pacific considering cigarette plain packaging

The World Health Organisation says a number of countries across the Pacific are considering following in Australia’s footsteps and introducing plain packaging of cigarettes.

The WHO is set to join governments across the region in a major drive to make the Pacific tobacco free within 10 years.

The WHO Pacific coordinator of non-communicable diseases, Dr Temo Waqanivalu, says the project will be launched in Honiara in two weeks and plain packaging is among the tactics being considered.

“The actual measure itself is something that’s greatly supported and there are a few countries that are ahead of the game, (they) are actually talking of moving there now,” Dr Waqanivalu told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat.

“They’ve done the graphic warnings on the packets so the next step after that is to actually move towards plain packaging.”

Dr Waqanivalu says increasing the tax on cigarettes and cracking down on the tobacco black market are the keys to reduce smoking.

“If those two happen, well then especially the young smokers, the youth, they’re the first ones who actually going to begin to quit,” he said.

“Economic ministers should really think seriously about assisting… part of that is facilitating increased taxation on tobacco cigarettes.”

The WHO says Cook Islands has been a leader on reducing smoking, having significantly increased the price of cigarettes with plans for further rises.

“Cook Islands is really exemplary of what we are trying to promote across the Pacific and they’ve done exceptionally well.”

But Dr Waqanivalu says the tobacco industry is fighting back.

“We know the tobacco industry is always at work,” he said. “We see them influencing ministries of health.”

Dr Waqanivalu says the WHO’s plans also involve setting up services to help people quit.

30 Jun 2014