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Now tobacco can save us from mobsters, whores, terrorists…

19 June , 2011

Gangsters claim the packs are ‘easier for us to copy’, state they will ‘use persuasion’ to protect profits, say their other drug sales are ‘unbranded’, suggest they could bomb critics and finally murder a rival over their ‘cut’.

A SHORT film that appears to be based on a John le Carre spy novel – think people smugglers, prostitutes, terrorists – is the latest salvo in the tobacco industry’s battle against federal government plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.

According to the seven-minute film by British American Tobacco, the proposal will cause organised crime gangs to flourish, encouraging the syndicates to use their networks to flood Australia with smuggled drugs, weapons and cigarettes.

Replete with scenes of menacing Russian mobsters, exploding cars, street prostitutes and drug-addled teens, the film is part of a global campaign to block Australian anti-smoking health reforms that could set a commercially damaging precedent for the international tobacco industry.

The short film was panned as ”Z-grade fiction” by Quit Victoria, who reckon the film would be unlikely to earn a nomination at a Tropfest festival.

”I have no doubt people will see this for the big tobacco propaganda it is,” said the group’s executive director, Fiona Sharkie.

While the film seems to stretch credulity, a voice-over claims: ”Law enforcers say some gangs [that distribute counterfeit cigarettes] are also behind people, weapons and drug trafficking. Some have terrorist links.”

Australian law enforcement agencies, however, were reluctant to speculate on whether the introduction of plain packets would threaten national security or leave the nation awash with guns and drugs.

”It would not be appropriate for ASIO to comment on advertising,” said an ASIO spokeswoman.

Spokespeople for the Australian Federal Police and Victoria Police also declined to comment on the film, which has been released on YouTube and the company’s international website.

British American Tobacco Australia spokeswoman Louise Warburton refused to comment on the film when contacted by The Sunday Age.

She said the content was not ”Australia specific” and referred inquiries to the company’s London head office, where the film was produced.

”The links between cigarette smuggling and other forms of organised crime have been well documented and reported in recent years,” the company’s global spokeswoman, Catherine Armstrong, said.

”You may find this report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists [based in Washington] useful, as it contains a number of direct quotes from people in law enforcement, as well as details of the links between the forms of crime.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is already investigating the industry over claims in recent advertisements that plain cigarette packets would lead to a surge in children smoking counterfeit tobacco.

British American Tobacco Australia chief executive David Crow warned last month that plain cigarette packets would provide a ”field day” for organised criminals, who had profited from a 150 per cent increase in illegal tobacco sales in Australia in the past three years.

Last week, ABC’s Media Watch admonished Channel Nine’s A Current Affair over a story it did in conjunction with British American Tobacco Australia. The story featured a Malaysian triad member, who claimed he had smuggled people in shipping containers into Australian cities. The man, who had been provided to ACA by British American Tobacco investigators, said the organisation’s tobacco and drug trafficking operations had provided the template for their people-smuggling business.

Customs and Border Protection said there was no evidence to support the claim.

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