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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 9196

Mr SYMON (Deakin) (13:13): I speak in support of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011. These bills will enact important and, I say, overdue changes to the packaging of cigarettes and tobacco products. As a former smoker, I must declare my interest in this debate. I am fortunate that I gave up nearly 20 years ago and, although it makes me feel somewhat aged, I can report that at the time I gave up a packet of cigarettes cost $2.28. I do not think that I would be in the same health I am today had I kept that habit up. Even when I was young and smoking, the effects of it, although I did not notice them at the time, were certainly not good for my health. Over the decades of health reform, tobacco advertising has been phased out and warnings against smoking now take up 30 per cent of the packaging. Tobacco companies now have one place where they continue to advertise and market their product, and that is the packet itself. Research has shown that the packaging style, logos, fonts and colours develop brand loyalty and market cigarettes for the tobacco companies. If I think back to when I used to smoke, I certainly think that was the case—I wanted the pack that looked the best. Now I am older and maybe some would say not wiser I have got over that and that is a good thing, but many more people need to.

The Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 will prohibit the use of all tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text on the retail packaging of tobacco products. The bill will mandate that the brand name is in a standard colour, position, font size and style and that the packaging will be a standard drab dark brown or olive colour. Again thinking back to when I used to partake, that was certainly not the case. I used to like the ones that came in a gold packet. To take that away I think is a good driver.

This bill makes it an offence to sell, supply, purchase, package or manufacture tobacco products in retail packaging that does not comply with the requirements. The Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011 seeks to amend the Trade Marks Act 1995 to enable regulations to be made in relation to the use of trademarks under the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011.

Importantly, this legislation will establish the first ever plain-packaging laws in the world. It is great to be first when it comes to public health. I know the world will be watching us. I think that is why we have had such interest from big tobacco in this debate. We are taking this action because tobacco is not like any other legal products. Ian Olver, the CEO of Cancer Council Australia, said:

We have argued very strongly that tobacco is a unique product, because it kills 50 per cent of people who use it as it was meant to be used.

The Australian Medical Association said:

Tobacco smoke contains many poisonous chemicals, some of which cause cancer.

It includes:

Nicotine—which is addictive,

Tar—which is the main cause of lung and throat cancer in smokers, and

Carbon Monoxide—which is a toxic gas that increases the risk of heart disease and other circulatory problems.

Tobacco remains one of the leading causes of preventable death and disease among Australians. Every year tobacco kills over 15,000 people in Australia. On average, I know that that is 100 people each and every year per electorate, including my own electorate of Deakin. Let us do a comparison with the national road toll, a figure we see quite often in the news. It is good that we are making progress and that number is down. The national road toll is now 1,368 deaths per year, which is less than one-tenth of the number of deaths from tobacco. This is where this debate sometimes gets a little lost. We are talking about 15,000 people. Of course, they are only the ones who die. There are also those who become chronically sick and require great amounts of funding to remain alive, whether they be in hospital or need treatment with drugs or surgery. That is something the Australian public pays for. That cost is estimated to be around $31.5 billion a year.

It is obvious that the government needs to act to cut smoking rates and to cut the number of Australians dying from tobacco related health issues. These bills are part of the government's antismoking action package aimed at delivering on our commitment to reduce the smoking rate to 10 per cent by 2018. It is also worth looking at the statistics in this debate. From the mid-20th century to the mid-1960s, a majority of males aged 16 and over were smokers and around a quarter of females aged 16 and over were smokers. The latest 2010 National Drug Strategy household survey data indicates that in 2010 around 20 per cent of males and 16 per cent of females aged 14 years and over were smokers. Overall, just over 15 per cent of the population aged over 14 were smokers in 2010, or around three million Australians. On the basis of these figures, Australia has the third lowest overall prevalence of smoking in the world, behind Sweden and Canada. But, as I said before, we still have over 15,000 Australians dying from tobacco related disease each year and we as a nation have to do more to bring down the rates of smoking.

The government has introduced a comprehensive package to reduce smoking rates. This Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill is just one part of the package. Other elements of the package include the 25 per cent increase in the tobacco excise in April last year that has seen tobacco sales fall by 8.8 per cent since that time, additional funding for the Quitline, more than $87 million in antismoking campaigns on television and through other mediums and in February this year for the first time the government introduced subsidies for nicotine patches on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. That has been widely appreciated by many constituents who had been writing to me and calling me for a long time to get that included on the PBS. Certainly they are happy that the government is able to assist them to give up the habit. With nearly 100,000 scripts issued so far, I know it is happening in other electorates as well.

The initiatives I have listed are some help for smokers to give up and help reduce the substantial health costs of smoking to the nation. The Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill is the latest step in the government's fight to reduce rates of smoking in Australia.By restricting tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text, the packaging will be drab, which is a good thing. The packaging of cigarettes and other tobacco products is the key way tobacco companies market their products, develop brand loyalty and create what they hope is a desirable image. One Philip Morris executive is reported as having stated:

In the absence of any other marketing messages, 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.

Tobacco packaging is a highly effective marketing tool in the sense that cigarettes have a high degree of social visibility. Tobacco researcher David Hammond notes:

Unlike many other consumer products, cigarette packages are displayed each time the product is used and are often left in public view between uses.

There is substantial evidence that the tobacco industry employs packaging as a means to influence sensory and health perceptions of tobacco products. Through descriptors such as light, mild and low tar on tobacco packaging, the industry conveys the false perception that certain brands deliver less tar, lower health risks and are less addictive than regular or full-flavour brands. The colour and design of packaging are used to impart false beliefs about both the taste and the risks associated with different tobacco brands. David Hammond argues:

Different shades of the same colour and the proportion of white space on a package are commonly used to manipulate perceptions of a product's strength and potential risk.

Consumers tend to perceive white and lighter colours as being healthier. Research shows that adults and adolescents in scientifically controlled studies perceive cigarettes in plain packs to be less appealing, less palatable, less satisfying and of lower quality compared to cigarettes in current packaging. Plain packaging would also affect young people's perceptions about the characteristics and status of the people who smoke particular brands.

An expert panel commissioned by Health Canada in 1994 investigated the potential impact of plain packaging. Based on the mostly converging results of five different studies, the expert panel concluded:

Plain and generic packaging of tobacco products … through its impact on image formation and retention, recall and recognition, knowledge, and consumer attitudes and perceived utilities, would likely depress the incidence of smoking uptake by non-smoking teens, and increase the incidence of smoking cessation by teen and adult smokers.

The World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recommends that parties to the convention introduce plain packaging. The WHO advises:

Packaging and product design are important elements of advertising and promotion. Parties should consider adopting plain packaging requirements to eliminate the effects of advertising or promotion on packaging.

Under the government's plan the only thing to distinguish one brand from another will be the brand and variant name in a standard colour, standard position and standard font size and style.

This legislation will also ensure that the current graphic health warnings will increase the coverage on the front of the pack from the current 30 per cent to 75 per cent, along with updated imagery and warnings. The government's intention is that, rather than being a marketing tool, the pack will serve as a stark reminder of the devastating health effects of smoking.

In 2008 the federal government commissioned the Preventative Health Taskforce to investigate reducing tobacco-smoking rates in Australia. Its report, released in September 2009, concluded that there can be no justification for allowing any form of promotion for this uniquely dangerous and addictive product including on the packaging. In line with the international evidence, the task force said that plain packaging would increase the impact of health warning messages, reduce the ability of tobacco companies to mislead consumers into believing that some cigarettes are less harmful than others, make cigarettes look less attractive and reduce the appeal and desirability of smoking generally.

Since the government announced its intention to introduce plain packaging, the Department of Health and Ageing has undertaken targeted consultations with organisations representing large and small retailers, with cigarette and cigar importers and with the major tobacco manufacturers; and the government held a 60-day public consultation period on an exposure draft of this bill. Consultation on the exposure draft of the bill showed overwhelming support for the measures we are proposing, from public health groups both within Australia and internationally.

In addition, we have listened to concerns raised with our proposals during these consultations—and legitimate concerns have now been taken up in the final bills that we are now debating. For example, to assist in identification of illicit tobacco products, manufacturers will be permitted to include certain design features that do not run counter to the public health objectives of the measure. The brand name will be permitted on the top, front and bottom of cigarette packs to assist retailers in handling tobacco products. All product manufactured in Australia will need to comply with plain packaging as of 20 May 2012. This will allow retailers time to restock and ensure that they have disposed of non-compliant product before 1 July 2012. To assist small-scale importers and small business with compliance, imported tobacco products will be able to be repackaged after importation into Australia.

The response from the health community to this legislation has been very positive. The AMA fully supports the introduction of plain packaging. It said:

The plain packaging will probably be a more effective deterrent for new and prospective smokers than established smokers.

It should help prevent children and young people from taking up smoking in the first place by decreasing the attractiveness of the packaging.

The Cancer Council of Australia said:

Plain packaging for tobacco products has the potential to be one of the most important policy measures in Australian history for reducing cancer deaths from smoking.

They also said:

Plain packaging is predominantly about deterring young people from becoming addicted to tobacco products.

But what has been the response of the tobacco industry? Unsurprisingly, they have done everything possible to stop this legislation, spending millions of dollars on TV and print media campaigns and serving legal action on the government. It all goes to show that they are very concerned about the positive effects that this legislation can have. The federal government's actions are being applauded by the medical community and will have a real impact on the take-up of smoking by young Australians. I think this is a wonderful measure and I certainly commend these bills to the House.