All except tobacco companies are happy with the passage of Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 in the Senate in Australia!

As a medical practitioner, I have keen interest in Public health and preventive medicine. I have been following the progress of Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011, with keen interest. Both have now been passed in the Senate on 10/11/11, after having received approval in the House of Representatives in Aug 2011.

I was very happy that the Bills were finally passed. They will now return to the House of Representatives for the final tick.

Australian Medical association [AMA], of which I am a member, Australian GP Network [AGPN], Australian Council on Smoking and Health [ACOSH], Cancer Councils, Public Health Association of Australia [PHAA], Action on Smoking & Health [ASH] and many more including leading Professors  have all been strong supporters of these Bills, which have been considered as progressive piece of Legislation.

Except for some minor disagreements, all political parties were in support of Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill. NSW Govt led by Barry O’Farrell was also in support of this Bill, as was the Baillieu  Govt of Victoria.

This legislation is a world first. It is likely to reduce smoking, particularly among young people.

Approx 18% Australians smoke currently, compared to 23% a decade ago. 15000 Australians die from smoking related illnesses and a lot more get Heart attacks and strokes with serious impact on quality of life. The total cost per annum for related health care is $30 billion.

Big Tobacco companies like British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco have threatened to challenge the legislation, once it becomes Law, in the High Court, but legal experts say that they have hardly any chance to succeed. The grounds on which the Big tobacco want to challenge this legislation is the breach of their trademarks and intellectual property rights, without compensation. 

From 1/12/12, Cigarettes packaging will be in drab Brown colour, which is apparently least attractive to people. The name of the brand and the maker will be allowed in a specified small size but Logo will not be allowed. Front of the package will have the explicit  health warning/message against smoking in 75% of the area and the back will have the same in 90% of the area.

Experts claim that cost of cigarettes and advertisements are two most important factors which attract people to cigarettes. The cost of cigarettes was increased last year and outdoor advertisement including sport linked advertisements have been banned too for some years. Seeing the name and Logo in flashy colours was the the last frontier of advertisement, experts have suggested.

World Health Organisation [WHO] has sided with Australia, while Big Tobacco ran an advertisement campaign earlier against this Bill. All sorts of objections were raised about the constitutionality of the Bill and that this Bill would violate WTO rules, but Govt stood its grounds, rejecting such claims. The Big Tobacco companies even went to the Court to get access to the legal opinion which Govt had received in support of the Bill. They did not succeed.

With Australia’s leading role in anti-tobacco campaign, more countries are likely to follow suit. NZ has already shown great enthusiasm in this.

With a close family member of mine succumbing to Tobacco-related cancer, I am against smoking & tobacco use, and am in total support for every anti-Tobacco campaign. There is all the justification for every action to prevent  Tobacco-related  illnesses and deaths.

Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/11/11/11

dryadusingh@gmail.com

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