On August 15, the High Court of Australia upheld the ‘Tobacco Plain Packaging Act’ which requires that cigarettes be sold only in ‘plain packaging’, without logos, branding, or promotional text. Instead, cigarette packs must have the brand name printed in small standardized text on a plain olive green package with graphic warnings to illustrate the health problems caused by smoking.
Tobacco companies have always used logos, package design, and brand name lettering and pack color to market their products. As other marketing outlets have been restricted, the industry has relied more on the cigarette packaging to promote the product. By using particular design and brand styles, the tobacco companies develop familiarity and affiliation with their addicting product, and belie the deadly nature of the package content.
Plain packaging works. Studies have shown that plain packaging makes it more likely that people who are just beginning to smoke, or who are considering starting, will think more about the actual harm caused by cigarettes and are then less likely to smoke. Australia has taken an important step in legislating for plain packaging and defending that legislation against the enormous economic might of the tobacco industry. But, the fight is not yet over, tobacco companies are planning to drag Australia through the international trade legal system. However, Australians seem to be ready to do what is needed to preserve this public health measure.
Australia should be congratulated, and their victory celebrated. Plain packaging is one important step, but it is not a sole remedy. Smoke free indoor regulations, increasing the cost of cigarettes, easy access to comprehensive treatment for addicted smokers, and eliminating all advertising are all important components for reducing the toll from the tobacco epidemic and eventually ending this as an available product.
Tobacco use currently kills more than 5 million people each year worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that the death toll will continue to rise unless urgent actions are taken. This victory is one step in an ongoing struggle to create a world where children won’t start smoking and everyone who smokes can have all the support needed to stop.