The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Australia’s Move to Plain: Stripping the Glamour of Tobacco

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on December 11, 2012
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Plain packaged tobacco products in Australia usher in the beginning of a new era for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).  With the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act (TPPA) and the Australian High Court’s ruling against the tobacco industry’s appeal to the unconstitutionality of the act, the tobacco control lobby for plain packaging in Southeast Asia now has a tough precedent that can be used to defend the constitutionality of similar laws that may be proposed. The EU at some point also considered plain packaging after the High Court’s verdict. This is comparable to Canada’s tough implementation of graphic warnings on tobacco products in 2001 after which 63 countries have followed suit.

The WHO Director General Margaret Chan has expressed her hopes that the Australian High Court’s evidence on the positive health impact of plain packaging can support efforts in other countries to develop and implement strong tobacco control measures and further reduce the tobacco industry’s influence on government.

The law effectively stripped tobacco of its glamour- banning brand colours, logos and design on packages. With larger graphic health warnings and brands in standard shape, location, color, font style and size, Australia made tobacco products packaging as filthy as their contents are. If Australia is tough enough to remove the tobacco industry’s ability to use packages to promote tobacco use, then it can also be done in Southeast Asia.

In Southeast Asia, Singapore and Thailand can also move towards plain packaging. With its already strict tobacco control regulations, Singapore will be introducing new graphic and text health warnings, banning misleading descriptors and lowering maximum tar and nicotine limits by 2013. Thailand, the first Southeast Asian country to follow Singapore’s graphic warning regulations in 2005, has required tobacco producers to display statements about toxic or carcinogenic substances on cigarette labels covering 60% of each side of the package since January 2012. If Singapore and Thailand can drive the plain packaging agenda further to ASEAN, the region may see healthier generations unburdened by chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, heart attack, diabetes and lung diseases attributed to smoking tobacco. The socio-economic burden of the costs of treating NCDs has contributed to deepening health insecurities in the region. Taking a step further with plain packaging can potentially reverse this trend.

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