1 December 2022 marks the 10 th anniversary since world-first plain packaging was introduced in Australia on 1 December 2012.
There is now a whole generation of Australians who have no memory of a time when cigarette packets were sold prior to the government mandate requiring the removal of branding colours and designs. Since 2012 cigarette packs have been a drab dark brown with large graphic health warnings.
Plain packaging was a huge collaborative achievement for public health. Along with our partners, Cancer Council Victoria carefully built the evidence base and relentlessly advocated for plain packaging. Big tobacco companies fought against the legislation, arguing that it was going too far and would boost illegally imported and cheaper products. Despite this, plain packaging was passed into law.
A major evaluation of plain packaging was conducted by Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, led by Prof Melanie Wakefield. The evaluation found a marked reduction in the appeal of cigarette packs, particularly among young people.
Noticeability and impact of the graphic health warnings increased. And plain packaging also went some way towards correcting the mistaken belief that some brands are less harmful than others.
Other research found that calls to Quitline increased immediately after plain packaging was introduced and one-third of young people reported a quitting related response. A government-commissioned independent review concluded that plain packaging had significantly contributed to reducing smoking prevalence in the years after its implementation.
Emboldened by Australia’s leadership, 27 countries have since implemented their own plain packaging legislation including the United Kingdom, Norway, Turkey, France, Sweden, Belgium, Netherlands and New Zealand, with more countries taking steps to pass plain packaging laws.
But in the decade since, tobacco companies have not rested, innovating with a range of problematic product marketing strategies to continue to retain customers and attract new ones.
… And starting a new phase of tobacco control
Building on the success of plain packaging, The Minister for Health Hon. Mark Butler yesterday announced a new package of measures to re-ignite the fight against tobacco and start a new phase of tobacco control in Australia.
The new package will extend and tighten the intent of plain packaging by standardising the size of tobacco packs and pouches and limiting the design and look of cigarette filters. It will limit the use of appealing names on tobacco products, such as ‘organic,’ that falsely imply they are less harmful. And instead of their current clean white appearance, in a world-first, cigarette sticks are also to become an unpleasant colour such as brown or dark green.
The package will also update current graphic health warnings to include all the diseases now established as caused by smoking that consumers have a right to know about, and introduce pack inserts that provide practical tips to quit and information about quitting services. Warnings will also appear on individual cigarette sticks, so the stark reminder of risk would be brought to the moment of smoking itself.
The package goes further by banning the addition of menthol and other flavourings. This is welcome because these additives make tobacco easier to smoke, especially for young people.
Other provisions of the package will modernise tobacco advertising restrictions to include digital media. And the government announced a review of options for tightening regulation of e-cigarettes in Australia.
“On the 10 th anniversary of plain packaging in Australia we celebrate the positive achievements of the legislation for public health in Australia as well as the enormous international legacy it has provided,” said Cancer Council Victoria’s CEO Todd Harper. “We congratulate government on this strong comprehensive tobacco control package that will drive down smoking prevalence.
“As the industry evolves and becomes stealthier in its marketing practices, Cancer Council Victoria will continue to support further tobacco control action.”
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Australia, with two in three long-term Australian smokers dying prematurely. Smoking causes many types of cancer, heart disease and stroke, chest and lung illnesses and stomach ulcers. It claims the lives of 15,000 Australians every year, yet frustratingly, the devastating harm caused by tobacco smoking is preventable.
We are keenly aware that our work is not done whilst smoking continues to cause such a devasting impact on Victorians and the Australian and global community. With your support we continue to investigate and advocate for policies to reduce smoking related harm.