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Transcript of interview with Sonya Feldhoff: ABC 891, Adelaide: 7 April 2011: plain packaging of tobacco

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THE HON NICOLA ROXON MP Minister for Health and Ageing


Interview with Sonya Feldhoff on ABC 891 Adelaide

7 April 2011


Topics: Plain Packaging of Tobacco, Tobacco Excise

Sonya Feldhoff: Today the Federal Government released its draft legislation regarding plain packaging for cigarettes and we've heard about this for some time with the debate raging about whether plain packaging will make any difference in helping to reduce the number of smokers in our community.

Now, I must admit when I thought and have discussed plain packaging in the past, I thought it would just be a little black and white wrapper or maybe on a brown paper parcel, that sort of thing for our cigarette packs.

Well, today the pictures that we're seeing are completely different and they're much more shocking than I had thought in the beginning. We're joined by the Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon. Thank you very much for your time, Minister.

Nicola Roxon: It's a pleasure.

Sonya Feldhoff: You've obviously made efforts to make this as shocking as possible. Why is that the goal?

Nicola Roxon: Well, currently cigarettes are sold in packages that can have, colours and logos and other materials on them but they still do have a big graphic health warning. We are now restricting the use of logos and colours that might make the product more attractive.

And at the same time we’re increasing the size of those graphic health warnings. And we're doing that because we want it to be very clear that the Government does not believe there is anything glamorous or anything good about cigarettes and that, in fact, every cigarette you

smoke takes you one step closer to cancer. And that's really a message we're trying to drive home.

Sonya Feldhoff: The size of those pictures showing the health effects of smoking are quite confronting.

Nicola Roxon: They are, and being put on a plain package makes quite a difference. So we've done a lot of design work and research that's shown us that a background of that dark olive green is very unattractive and makes you look more carefully, draws your eye towards the health warnings.

That's obviously an important part of our objectives. But it also, importantly, takes away the last type of marketing and promotion that tobacco companies can use in Australia to attract people to their products.

And ultimately what we're trying to do is make sure fewer people start on this dangerous habit and that people who do smoke might consider giving up.

Sonya Feldhoff: The tobacco companies, I know they've come out today and they suggest that this will make very little difference in reducing the number of people who smoke. How confident are you that this will be the turning point for some?

Nicola Roxon: Well, look, I think there's a very clear measure of this and that's the level of animosity that's coming from the tobacco companies. They've already invested millions of dollars during the last election campaign to oppose this measure and there's no way they would be fighting so hard if they think this won't have any impact.

And there's no way they would spend so much money on actually testing what colours work for them and ways that they can attract people to their product if they didn't think it made a difference.

We know it will make a difference and that's why we are introducing plain packaging requirements so that every extra life we can save of the 15,000 each year that are lost to smoking-related deaths, will be a success.

Sonya Feldhoff: They say also that it may open the market up with easier access for black marketeers.

Nicola Roxon: Well, I don't think that there's any evidence to show that that's right. We have agreed with the tobacco industry that some anti counterfeiting measures can be applied to the packaging and wouldn't breach our plain packaging requirements.

But, you know, they've always fought - big tobacco have always fought restrictions in Australia as they've been introduced. We have no doubt they will fight this one but that won't stop the Government from being determined to introduce a measure which we think can save lives and is why we're so determined to proceed with it.

Sonya Feldhoff: I'm speaking with the Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon. You may have your own views on this. Give us a ring, 1300 222 891. Do you think this will make a difference? Minister, I'm really interested by the amount of research you've done into this ugly packaging or packaging that would turn people away.

Can you tell us the sort of things that you've found? First of all, you mentioned the olive green colour but what about perhaps the size and the font of the description of what they're having there?

Nicola Roxon: Yes, look, all of that gets tested by people other than myself who are expert in being able to particularly look at what is attractive or unattractive for smokers and what is attractive or unattractive for young people, because they're two of the target groups that we want this measure to be most effective for.

If we can stop young people becoming addicted to this killer product that's a good thing. And if we can turn some existing smokers off the habit we know that will help improve their health outcomes too.

Sonya Feldhoff: The pictures on these packages of the health effects of smoking, as I've mentioned before, are quite shocking. And I can imagine that a lot of people will have difficulty having that on the table or the bar or wherever they may be smoking which may be your point.

But also, whenever these things happen, we always see people bring in alternatives, don't we? And there's a lot at stake here as far as money goes. What's going to stop the cigarette companies from making cigarette packs where they can just pop those cigarettes in and cover those images up?

I mean, I remember the days when my parents were smokers. We even had the gold mesh cigarette case for instance. Won't that just have a - you know, be brought back?

Nicola Roxon: We've got two types of legislation that can affect this. There are restrictions already in place for all sorts of promotion and advertising which is not permitted in Australia. So that's what happened when you saw ads being pulled off TV and billboards but also other types of promotion.

This restriction will cover the packaging that any tobacco product is sold in. So it's likely that if tobacco companies try to find some way around this legislation they would likely be caught by other existing legislation.

But we're not, naive about how ingenious big tobacco will be in trying to hook people onto their killer products. But we are determined to make sure that we do all we can, where there's evidence that measures might work, to try to make smoking less attractive and to ensure that a few young people as possible take up this habit.

Sonya Feldhoff: This legislation will be debated over the next few months so when are you hoping it will be in place?

Nicola Roxon: Well, we've just released today, the draft of the legislation and it's going to be open for comment for sixty days. We've released it as an exposure draft because we know there'll be a lot of public interest and industry interest and we're very open to receiving feedback on that.

I then plan to introduce it into the Parliament in the second half of this year and we would hope that we would have the support of the Parliament and particularly of the Liberal Party to introduce this change.

I'm a bit surprised that Mr Abbott has not yet declared his support for this legislation. He is a former health minister. I know that he is well aware of the harms of tobacco.

But I also know that the Liberal Party still takes donation from big tobacco and I'm concerned that that might be colouring their view on this piece of legislation. I hope it won't but they have yet to declare their position.

Sonya Feldhoff: Minister, thank you for your time.

Nicola Roxon: That's a pleasure.

Sonya Feldhoff: The Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon.