Tobacco industry’s campaign against plain packaging is based on fear for its profits

Cigarettes are marketed in forms which appeal in particular to children

Packets of cigarettes  on display. By 2014 plain packets will be in every shop in the State. Photograph: Getty Images

Packets of cigarettes on display. By 2014 plain packets will be in every shop in the State. Photograph: Getty Images


We don’t believe it’s ever been established that smoking is the cause of disease.”
“I’m unclear in my own mind whether anyone dies of cigarette smoking related diseases.”
“I do not believe that nicotine is addictive.”

These statements were made, under oath, by, respectively, the vice-president of the Tobacco Institute, Murray Walker, the chairman of Philip Morris, Geoffrey Bible, and the chief executive of Brown and Williamson, Thomas Sandefur, as recently as 1994 and 1998.

The tobacco industry has a long track record of hiding the truth to protect its profits. Its internal documents clearly show its own scientists were warning that smoking causes cancer since the early 1950s and that smoking is addictive since the early 1960s. For five decades, the industry deliberately concealed these facts in an attempt to deceive governments and the public about the dangers of smoking.

An article was published in this paper last Saturday stating that plain packaging of cigarettes “simply won’t work”. It was written by the director of the Democracy Institute and a Cato Institute adjunct scholar. Both of these institutes have been recipients of funding from the tobacco industry – as your paper made clear. Last week’s article is likely to be the opening shot of a long campaign by the industry. It has already spent millions in Australia, New Zealand and the UK promoting bogus claims about plain packaging. It is doing this because it is afraid of plain packaging, afraid of it because it knows that it works. It knows it will help prevent the next generation of children from becoming addicted to a deadly product that kills one in two of its users.

It fears that its profits will be hit when it can no longer package a product that kills 5,200 people in Ireland every year in a slim pink container that strongly resembles perfume or lipstick. Packets like this are especially attractive to children. If teenagers did not become addicted to cigarettes, the tobacco industry would disappear in a generation. In order to maintain its profits and its very existence, it must addict our children.

Maintaining profits
The tobacco industry’s only focus is maintaining its profits. It misled the public about smoking being addictive; it misled the public about smoking causing cancer and it is now attempting to mislead the public about the health benefits of plain packaging.

In time, its claims about plain packaging will look as bogus and as misleading as its claims about smoking being harmless and not being addictive.

Its insistence now is that its branded packs represent intellectual property that must be protected.

In my view it would be a strange society that would allow a situation where intellectual property rights supersede the rights and expectations of our children to health and wellbeing.

The case for plain packaging of cigarettes is based in evidence. Just this week, the first research into the impact of such packaging in Australia was released. It found that the new packaging makes two-thirds of smokers more likely to think their cigarettes are of poorer quality, 70 per cent of smokers more likely to say they found them less satisfying and a massive 81 per cent more likely to have thought about quitting at least once a day and rated quitting as a higher priority in their lives.

These results were to be expected. Shortly after the introduction of the new packets, so many smokers complained that their cigarettes tasted differently that Imperial Tobacco Australia issued a denial that they changed the ingredients.

The World Health Organisation has highlighted many studies showing that picture warnings encourage smokers to quit and deter young people from taking up smoking. The studies show the larger the picture warnings on the packet, the more of an impact they have.

They show that the more graphic the warnings in mass media campaigns, the greater their impact. It is not a massive leap from this to conclude that Australia’s cigarette packets – practically the entire box is a graphic health warning – will be the most effective in the world at preventing children from smoking and encouraging smokers to quit.

Some 37 studies into the potential impact of plain packaging of cigarettes have reached similar conclusions: plain packaging will reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products, reduce the ability of packaging to mislead consumers into believing that some products may be less harmful than others and increase the noticeability, recall and impact of health warning messages.

Marketing gimmicks
Given all we know about the dangers of smoking, it is not acceptable to allow the tobacco industry to use deceptive marketing gimmicks to lure our children into this deadly addiction and to deceive current smokers about the impact of their habit. It is clear that plain packaging is the next logical step in combating this public health epidemic.

The Australian government bravely stood up to the tobacco industry with its landmark legislation and defeated its legal action in the country’s highest court. We must have the same resolve.

We must not be deterred by legal threats or publicity campaigns based on bogus claims. We must do all in our power to protect our children from marketing gimmicks aimed at addicting them to a product that will kill one in two who take up this killer habit.

Plain packaging of cigarettes has been approved by Cabinet. Plain packets will be in every shop in the State in 2014.

Dr James Reilly is Minister for Health.

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