Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Landmark Win For Public Health – Australia Upholds Tobacco Plain Packaging

August 15, 2012

Australia made history on Wednesday. In one of the most significant victories for public health policy, the Australian High Court upheld the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, which effectively removes the last form of advertising available to the tobacco industry in the country – logos on cigarette packs. After a multi-million dollar legal battle, the Government of Australia effectively defended its right to legislate to protect the health of its citizens. "This is a victory for all those families who have lost someone to a tobacco-related illness. For anyone who has ever lost someone, this is for you," Attorney General Nicola Roxon and Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said in a joint statement. "No longer when a smoker pulls out a packet of cigarettes will that packet be a mobile billboard."

Tobacco kills 6 million people worldwide annually. In Australia, about 15,000 perish annually from tobacco-related disease. Australia has had significant success in reducing its smoking rate; with a comprehensive tobacco advertising bans in effect since 1992. Overall, smoking rates in Australia have declined to 15.1 percent in 2010, from 30.5 percent in 1998.

It its order today, the Australia High Court dismissed tobacco industry claims that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act is unconstitutional, and that it unfairly acquires the industry’s intellectual property without compensation.  The Plain Packaging Act requires that tobacco products be sold in plain olive packaging, without logos or branding, and with standard font for the tobacco company name. It reduces the attractiveness of cigarettes, and aims to decrease the allure of smoking for youth in particular.  

While the battle is not yet over - Australia still faces two additional cases with Philip Morris Asia and the World Trade Organization – today’s victory establishes an important precedent for plain packaging, and encourages those who seek to implement it elsewhere.

The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, India, Thailand, Uruguay and South Africa have already publicly stated an interest in pursuing plain packaging, signifying that it will likely spread beyond Australia’s borders – a risk the tobacco industry is doing everything it can, to avoid.

Tobacco-related disease is the leading cause of preventable death in the world; Australia’s model of persistence in saving the lives of its citizens is truly paving the way for the rest of the world to fight the intimidation of the multi-billion dollar, harmful industry.

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