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Thursday, 26 June 2014
Page: 4145

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (18:29): Earlier this week I spoke about recent figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Commonwealth Treasury demonstrating the positive impact tobacco plain packaging and other measures are having on reducing the prevalence of smoking in our community. Tonight I want to speak about the latest research into the effectiveness of plain packaging and how this world-leading Labor public policy initiative is being perceived internationally.

According to the World Health Organization, smoking kills nearly six million people around the world every year. A key plank of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, of which Australia was the first signatory, is the implementation of plain packaging as part of comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising. In the United Kingdom, where the introduction of plain packaging is currently being debated, the Independent review into standardised packaging of tobacco was presented to the Cameron government in April this year. The review, undertaken by the eminent paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler found that:

… branded packaging contributes to increased tobacco consumption …

and concluded that it is:

… highly likely that standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking and implausible that it would increase the consumption of tobacco.

Perhaps the most comprehensive review of plain packaging was a study known as the Stirling review, which was commissioned by the United Kingdom Department of Health. The Stirling review concluded that:

Standardised packaging is less appealing than branded packaging.

It found that:

Graphic and text health warnings are more credible and memorable on standardised packaging than when juxtaposed with attractive branding …

And finally, it found:

Whereas colours and descriptors on branded packaging confuse smokers into falsely perceiving some products as lighter and therefore "healthier", products in standardised packages are more likely to be perceived as harmful.

Here in Australia, there was a study entitled Introduction effects of the Australian plain packaging policy on adult smokers: a cross-sectional study. That was by the Cancer Council Victoria. It found that:

Compared with branded pack smokers, those smoking from plain packs perceived their cigarettes to be lower in quality, tended to perceive their cigarettes as less satisfying than a year ago, were more likely to have thought about quitting at least once a day in the past week and rated quitting as a higher priority in their lives.

There is strong support for plain packaging in the international community, including from the World Health Organization. In March 2012, the World Health Organization's Director-General, Ms Margaret Chan, urged the world to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Australia with its ground-breaking tobacco control laws against big tobacco.

The world is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Australia. Much has happened since the introduction of plain packaging in our country in December 2012. The Republic of Ireland is set to become the first country in the European Union and the second country in the world to introduce plain packaging laws, with the Irish upper house having recently passed the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014. I certainly commend, and I hope other senators would too, the Irish government and their ambitious goal of a smoke-free Ireland by 2025. The United Kingdom is finalising consultations and reviews with a view to implementing plain packaging in the near future. The New Zealand government is currently proceeding with legislation to introduce plain packaging. A host of other countries—including France, Norway, Canada, India, Finland, Turkey and South Africa—are at various stages of consideration of plain packaging laws.

I have seen the recent reports in the media—backed by industry-supplied figures which I think are shonky—that plain packaging has led to an increase in smoking rates. I said earlier this week:

If plain packaging is so ineffective, if it has been such a failure, and if cigarette consumption is increasing, why all the hysteria from big tobacco and their friends about plain packaging? Why spend all this time and money opposing plain packaging? The truth is tobacco plain packaging works, and the broader war on smoking is working.

If tobacco companies attempt to counter plain packaging by reducing the price of tobacco products, I have said that one option open to the parliament and to the government is to respond with stronger and more frequent increases in the excise on tobacco products. I would certainly encourage the government to consider any such response if required.

Finally, for those who doubt the powerful effect cigarette packaging has on children, I suggest they watch a video available on YouTube entitled 'The answer is plain—campaign for plain cigarette packaging' by Cancer Research UK. The video shows school children presented with actual cigarette packets and their variety of different colours, fonts, shapes, sizes and logos. The children describe the cigarette packets as 'funky', 'fancy', 'posh', 'fun', 'happy', 'pretty', 'girly', 'nice' and 'cool'. Is that the royal sign?' asks one little boy, and 'I like it' says another boy. These kids' reactions to the branding on cigarette packets is precisely why the world is taking on tobacco interests and fighting to toss these destructive and deadly products into the waste bin of history. Plain packaging will not stop every child or teenager from picking up that first cigarette, but it will give many kids one less reason to start.