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Transcript of interview with Charlie Pickering: 7PM Project, Channel Ten: 7 April 2011: plain packaging of tobacco

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THE HON NICOLA ROXON MP Minister for Health and Ageing


E & OE


CHARLIE PICKERING: Smoking kills 15,000 Australians and costs the economy $31 billion every year. While rates are steadily dropping, it is still the leading cause of death in our community.

Today we are one step closer to a world first - logo-free, uniform packaging coloured with ugly images, the same for every single brand, but the tobacco industry is up in arms.

BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO: When faced with the prospect of the Government taking away our intellectual property, our branding that we’ve invested billions of dollars in, we’re obviously going to fight for it.

CHARLIE PICKERING: Will changing the look of a packet of fags change make any difference to consumers?

VOX POP: No. It’s not going to change my smoking habit.

VOX POP: Smoking doesn’t have anything to do with what the packet looks like.

VOX POP: When I smoke, I don’t look at the packet. I just smoke because I want to have a cigarette.

HOST: If this legislation gets up, it will set an international precedent and big tobacco is preparing to fight to the bitter end.

BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO: If the Government takes away our intellectual property, this is going to end up in the courts and they will spend millions fighting it and billions down the track in compensation.

CHARLIE PICKERING: No one, not smokers, not even the tobacco industry can pretend that smoking is anything but stupid, but it is a legal stupidity that the Government makes money off. It is time to grab the bull by the horns and ban

smoking all together?

Nicola Roxon is the Federal Minister for Health and she released the proposed packaging this morning. Nicola, you are taking on the tobacco industry, they’re angry, they’ll fight you. This has not gotten up in any country around the world. What makes you think you can get this over the line?

MINISTER ROXON: Well, we’re not going to let Big Tobacco bully us into not taking this action. We think it will save lives. There are 15,000 Australians that die every year from smoking-related diseases, so the stakes are pretty high. But, this is the first time and we are the first country to have the political will to actually take this fight on because we think that we can do something which will make a difference for people.

STEVE VIZARD: Given the lives that you have just said are at stake in your commitment, why don't you just make it illegal?

MINISTER: I think we have to be realistic. There are people who are addicted to this product. We are trying to provide them with extra help to quit, but we are doing everything, and this is the last step, to take away the way tobacco companies can promote their products. These packages that we have got are pretty graphic. They are plain but they are actually designed to draw your eye to the health warning as well. We want to make sure that new, particularly young people, don't think it is sexy or glamorous to take up smoking and hopefully that means we can save lives into the future.

CHARLIE PICKERING: Nicola, just to clarify, how much money does the Government take in from cigarette tax and how much does smoking cost us from a health perspective?

MINISTER: We lose $30 billion, just over $30 billion every year in the costs, the social costs the economic costs, the health costs of dealing with smoking. We do collect billions of dollars of money from the tobacco excise, but this is an amount of money we would be happy not to have to collect if it meant our smoking rates got down to 10%, which is our target.

CHARLIE PICKERING: You were delightfully vague there. How many billions do you take from cigarettes, compared to $30 billion on health?

MINISTER: We spend much much more on health than we collect in our tobacco taxes. When we put the excise up, you are testing my memory here, I think we increased the amount that we collected over the four years by several billion

dollars. All of that money goes into health expenditure. Our health expenditure is many times over what we collect.

DAVE HUGES: I think you’re doing a great job selling these plain tobacco packs. I was watching vision today though and you said something while modelling the packets, which I found very interesting. Just watch this.

MINISTER (WITH VISION OF MINISTER’S HANDS AS MINISTER MODELS PLAIN PACKAGING PACKETS EARLIER IN THE DAY): I would have done my nails if I had known I would be doing this. Lucky I’m not a smoker.

DAVE HUGES: I think you should have had brown nails. That would help people stop smoking.

MINISTER: I was more conscious that I hadn’t had them buffed and polished for all the modelling I was doing. The point is of course if you are a smoker, the yellow nails, let alone the teeth, all of these things are things that your body does when you inhale thousands of chemicals with every cigarette.

DAVE HUGES: You should have chucked your fingers in some chocolate ice-cream, all right.

CHARLIE PICKERING: Well, Minister thank you very much for your time tonight, we really appreciate it.

MINISTER: It’s a pleasure.

DAVE HUGHES: I love that the tobacco industry have already spent millions of dollars advertising the fact this won't make any difference. Why do they spend the money doing that then?

STEVE VIZARD: Exactly. They are trying to rally the smokers, but the trouble is that the smokers are too puffed to rally.

CARRIE BICKMORE: It’s interesting. The smokers we saw in the package were saying that it wouldn't make a difference to them at all. But I think it could make a difference to young kids lighting up. You were a teenager when you started smoking. Would it have put you off?

CHARLIE PICKERING: Absolutely. The cool packet was one of the things that got me interested. The research says… There is lots of research that says to young people they even say things like the same cigarette in a different package tastes better. And as far as I’m concerned the Government can’t do enough. They should actually make it law that anyone selling a packet of cigarettes has to actually slap the person buying them. “What do you think you’re doing to yourself!”