Last Wednesday, the Australia High Court upheld that country’s plain packaging act requiring tobacco companies to sell their products in olive-colored packages with graphic picture images of smoking-related illnesses. That decision means that beginning December 1, 2012 cigarette packages will all look the same, devoid of their colorful trademark logos and branding. Since tobacco is the world’s number one cause of preventable death, it also means an important legal victory for public health in Australia. Now that they have become the first country to win the right to use plain packaging, other countries such as Britain, Canada, New Zealand, France, Finland and Turkey are considering similar options.
One of the arguments the tobacco industry made against plain packaging was that it was an acquisition of intellectual property by the government and they should therefore receive billions of dollars in compensation. According to law experts the Australian government has a right to protect the health of its citizens. The government is restricting the use of the logos, not acquiring the logos for their own use.
Another argument against plain packaging by the tobacco industry is that it will increase black market trading of tobacco, and billions of dollars in tax revenue will be lost. However, anti-counterfeiting markings will still be placed on the packaging, and the government will continue to enforce tobacco duties.
Plain packaging is a win for the health of the citizens of Australia. Removing the logos makes the packages less appealing, which may stop young people from starting the deadly habit, and may cause smokers to limit the amount they smoke or quit altogether. It is difficult to dispute the smoking-related health effects when graphic images and warnings are staring back at you from each package.