Plain Packaging Won’t Butt-Out Problem

On the 10th of November 2011, the Tobacco Plain Packaging legislation passed the Senate and became law in Australia and on the 15th August 2012, the High Court backed the Federal Government’s legislation requiring that all cigarettes be sold in plain packets. The introduction of the plain packaging law, which will be implemented in December this year, has been viewed as a major win for public health in Australia.

The legislation requires the removal of all branding from cigarettes. Cigarette manufacturers will be required to print only the brand name in a mandated size, font and place on the pack, which will be a drab, dark brown colour.

Whilst the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act will have some effect, it is unlikely to be the watershed movement that the Government and anti-smoking organisations are purporting. It has been claimed that plain packaging is a vital preventative public health measure, and will play a major role in a decline in the number of young people who smoke. The supposed benefits of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act are that plain packaged cigarettes will reduce the appeal of smoking to young people, will reduce the deception about the harmfulness of cigarettes, and will strengthen the impact of graphic health warnings.

Although the colour and the packaging of cigarettes do play some role in a young person’s decision to take up smoking, the driving influence is usually social. The majority of people I know who smoke do so socially. For them, smoking is associated with going out, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. For these types of smokers, the Plain Packaging Laws will have little effect. Although social smokers smoke a variety of brands, and the colour of the packing may play some role in their decision of which cigarettes to buy, the intention to buy cigarettes exists regardless of the aesthetic of the package – pretty colour packaging is not a major motivator.

A more effective move in reducing the number of young people who smoke would be to ban smoking in restaurants, bars and nightclubs altogether. If this ban was enforced everywhere, it would not adversely impact attendance for certain venues. Furthermore, the banning of smoking in entertainment venues would be critical in actively reducing the number of people who smoke because it would remove the social aspect of smoking which attracts so many young people.

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