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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 9170


Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (11:22): I rise to support the Gillard government's Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and the related trademarks amendment bill. As a long-term smoker, I believe that we must do everything we can to deter and prevent people from taking up the habit in the first instance. The facts are very clear and speak for themselves. Smoking is one of the leading preventable causes of death and disease in Australia. When the sickness and disability caused by tobacco are taken into account, as well as the tobacco related deaths, tobacco caused more disease and injury in Australia in 2003 alone than any other single risk factor. Tobacco itself is responsible for about 90 per cent of drug caused deaths and has had a $31.5 billion toll on both our economy and our society.

Given these alarming facts, you would think that those opposite would immediately support plain-packaging legislation rather than remain silent for so long, maybe in fear of upsetting some of their biggest donors, because the Liberal Party are more than happy to take money from them. As they say, you choose your friends. We on this side of the House long ago ended that friendship.

Unfortunately, for too long, smoking was more of a normal practice; in fact encouraged in days gone by. It was almost accepted by society because Big Tobacco, to give them credit, have been very clever and successful in selling and marketing their products as being no different from any others and with no-one stopping them. Think back to football, cricket, motor racing and many other events, right around the world: there was the prominent advertising. For decades, cigarettes were placed alongside bread, milk and lollies in milk bars and convenience stores, with a visibility and presence equal to that of any other ordinary product. They were not treated as the harmful, deadly product that they actually are.

By introducing this legislation we are seeking to end one of the remaining forms of advertising and promotion of tobacco products, which will no doubt ultimately result in fewer Australians, particularly young Australians, taking up the habit. Plain packaging is part of the range of measures the Gillard government is taking to discourage, deter and prevent smoking. We all know that packaging is a fundamental part of market strategy for all consumer goods, particularly cigarettes. As other forms of advertising for cigarettes have been banned over the years, the importance of packaging to big tobacco companies is all the more relevant and important to their business. Packaging establishes a brand identity and its purpose is to promote the goods both at the point of sale and while the product is being used, which for cigarettes generally numbers a few times a day. Big Tobacco knows this and on numerous occasions, for a long time, they have admitted how important the packaging of cigarettes is to their sales. John Digianni, a former cigarette package designer, said:

A cigarette package is unique because the consumer carries it around with him all day … it's a part of a smoker's clothing, and when he saunters into a bar and plunks it down, he makes a statement about himself.

Similarly, British American Tobacco stated in 1978:

One of every two smokers is not able to distinguish in a blind … test between similar cigarettes … for most smokers and the decisive group of new, younger smokers, the consumer's choice is dictated more by psychological, image factors than by relatively minor differences in smoking characteristics.

British American Tobacco internal documents have stated that, given the consequences of a total ban on advertising, a pack should be designed to give the product visual impact as well as brand imagery. The pack itself can be designed so that it achieves more visual impact in the point of sale environment than its competitors. Philip Morris executives have also stated how important packaging was under increasingly restrictive advertising environments:

Our final communication vehicle with our smoker is the pack itself. In the absence of any other marketing message, our packaging … is the sole communicator of our brand essence. Put another way—when you don't have anything else—our packaging is our marketing.

Despite all the huffing and puffing, it is evident Big Tobacco knows that plain-packaging legislation will work. That is why you can ask: why would they kick up such a stink? They know that it will affect their profits. But, in our view, it will decrease the smoking take-up and increase the benefit to the nation's health, both socially and economically.

Plain packaging will increase both the noticeability and the effectiveness of health warnings and messages by standardising cigarette packages which will reinforce the consequences of smoking. The passage of this legislation will prevent tobacco advertising and promotion on tobacco products and tobacco product packaging in order to reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products to consumers, particularly young people. It will increase the noticeability and the effectiveness of mandated health warnings. And it will reduce the ability of the tobacco product packaging to mislead consumers about the harms of smoking. Plain packaging along with a range of other tobacco control measures will assist in reaching the performance benchmark, set under the COAG National Healthcare Agreement, of reducing the national smoking rate to 10 per cent of the population by 2018 and halving the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking rate.

This bill is a world first and it sends a clear message that the glamour is gone. The Marlboro Man has ridden off into the sunset. No longer do we see Ronald Reagan advertising Chesterfield cigarettes. Nor do we find that living 'Alive with pleasure!' is part of Newport cigarettes—because after all, if smoking is not a pleasure, why bother? These were the things we had in days gone by, like the Peter Jacksons down the beach with all the happy young people. Most of those people are now old and probably coughing away as they go about their daily business because of the direct effects of cigarette smoking. The new packs have been designed to have the lowest appeal to smokers and to make clear the terrible effects that smoking can have on your health. Research has illustrated that plain packaging significantly reduces the attractiveness of cigarettes to young people. That in turn should translate into fewer young people taking up smoking and more young smokers attempting to quit. We know that quitting is a very difficult option. I have had a couple of cracks at it myself, and I will again in the near future. But it is very, very hard. And that is one of the worst factors about smoking—how hard it is to quit. Plain packaging will increase the impact of health warnings and reduce the appeal of tobacco products to existing and would-be smokers. Since taking office, Labor has implemented a range of measures to decrease the smoking rate, and smoking rates have substantially fallen.

A large number of public health organisations and experts have expressed their support for plain packaging—organisations such as the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, the Public Health Association, the Cancer Council, the Heart Foundation and the National Stroke Foundation. The World Health Organisation has also welcomed this legislation, stating:

… implementing the proposed legislation aiming to prevent tobacco advertising and/or promotion on tobacco product packaging will achieve its stated goals of: reducing the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products to consumers … increasing the noticeability and effectiveness of mandated health warnings; and reducing the ability of the tobacco product packaging to mislead consumers about the harms of smoking.

The World Health Organisation Secretariat goes on to say:

… this legislation will contribute to curbing the initiation of tobacco use, reducing tobacco consumption, and decreasing incidences of relapse in those who cease to consume tobacco.

…      …   …

… the WHO Secretariat strongly supports the proposed legislation.

But, of course, there are those who have finally caved in to the pressure. The Leader of the Opposition for so long remained silent—the visionless man, as we have come to expect, once again putting himself and his own interests before those of the nation. The British Tobacco charter states that political donations are given to 'influence the debate on issues affecting our company'. It is a no-brainer. The Leader of the Opposition loves his Big Tobacco—or anyone else who will donate to the Liberal Party, because he is not choosy where he gets his money from.

Labor has introduced many other initiatives to reduce smoking and its harmful effects. These reforms have been undertaken in the context of the government's commitment, as I said earlier, to the target of reducing the smoking rate among the Australian population to 10 per cent by 2018 and halving the smoking rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These targets are consistent with the national preventative health targets contained in COAG's National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health. In order to achieve these goals we have increased the excise rate applying to tobacco products by 25 per cent; introduced legislation for plain packaging of tobacco products; introduced legislation to impose restrictions on internet advertising on tobacco products, in line with advertising in all other media; invested $61 million towards a national tobacco campaign, 'Every cigarette brings cancer closer', and $27.8 million over four years for social marketing campaigns targeting high-risk and hard-to-reach groups, and invested $14.5 million towards the Indigenous Tobacco Control Initiative. We have invested over $100 million towards COAG's National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes and the Tackling Smoking measure and introduced the first ever Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific national anti-smoking television campaign, 'Break the chain'. We have provided $5 million in one-off funding to Quitline in 2009-10 and invested $102.4 million to support the provisions of nicotine replacement therapies and other quit-smoking supports through the PBS. We will continue to work in the national interest and not work to benefit Big Tobacco, which profits at the expense of Australians, the Australian economy and our health system.

I noted earlier the opposition member talking about the retailers. I have spoken to many retailers in my electorate who have also raised the issue of cigarette plain packaging and the extra time it may take their staff. But every one of them I have spoken to and asked, 'Have you had a look at ideas such as putting them alphabetically?' has seemed to agree that that would end the problem that has been raised in the email campaign across the nation. Putting them alphabetically would make it far easier for them to pick up, and would take half the time of what they are doing now. So there is a lot of support. Many retailers I have spoken to—many in our milk bars and local convenience stores—have said that these sorts of measures are important to decrease the rates of smoking. I notice the shadow minister laughing over there. I think that says more about his inability to do his work and his ineffectiveness and his lack of an understanding of the rates of impact of tobacco on health in general, which probably explains why he has not asked the minister a question in two years.

Mr Dutton interjecting

Mr MITCHELL: You call it simplistic! Mate, you have not done a thing for two years. You have got cobwebs on your shoulders from sitting there.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The members will stop interjecting across the table.

Mr Baldwin interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Paterson, who would know that, should probably not interject.

Mr MITCHELL: I spoke about Philip Morris, in 1984, lamenting on the best way to address the decreasing sales of its flagship brand, Marlboro, in Australia and saying that the key problem seemed to be its lack of appeal to younger smokers and that this was the area that needed to be addressed. I think that is an important remark because it shows that it was advertising pushed directly to and aimed at encouraging younger smokers to take up the habit and line the company's pockets and the pockets of those opposite. Now I think it is time that the Leader of the Opposition stood up and actually stood for something and quit his dirty habit of taking tobacco donations. With that, I will conclude by saying that I think it is important that we commend this legislation to the House and wish it a speedy passage.