Australia rolls out world's first plain cigarette pack law
First-of-its-kind measure introduced in effort to strip cigarettes of associations of glamour and stop youngsters from striking up habit
A law forcing tobacco firms to sell cigarettes in plain packets came into effect in Australia yesterday in an effort to strip any glamour from smoking and prevent young people from taking up the habit.
The new law, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, came into force despite a vigorous legal challenge by big tobacco, which argued that the legislation infringed its intellectual property rights by banning trademarks.
All cigarettes will now have to be sold in identical, olive-brown packets bearing the same typeface and largely covered with graphic health warnings.
A cashier at a Sydney newsagent said many customers reported finding the new packaging, which must feature graphic images such as a gangrenous foot, mouth cancer or a skeletal man dying of cancer, off-putting.
Sanjid Amatya, a cashier at a Sydney newsagent, said smokers were asking to pick and choose the images on their packets.
"Some of them don't care what the picture is," Amatya said.
Another retailer, Anas Hasan, said the most preferred packs pictured a hand stubbing out a cigarette.
Some smokers were buying cigarette cases so they did not have to look at the images.
"They hate it. I smoke and I hate it," he said of the new packaging.
The packages make it hard to tell brands apart, complicating deliveries and adding to costs.
"It used to take me an hour to unload a delivery, now it takes me four hours," said James Yu, who runs the King of the Pack tobacconist in Sydney. "The government should have just banned them altogether and then we'd go OK, fine, we're done, we'll shut up shop," he said.
Others say the laws have boosted their business.
Sandra Ha of Zico Import, a small family business, said demand for cigarette cases, silicon covers to mask the unpalatable packages, had shot up.
Ha said Zico had sold up to 6,000 to wholesale outlets and was awaiting new stock. "This is good business for us."
Anti-smoking campaigners have welcomed the new law.
Stafford Sanders from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Australia said that research had suggested people would be put off by the packaging. "It's likely to make people more aware of the health warnings," he said.
The tobacco industry, which lobbied hard against the law, has shifted its focus to potential copycat legislation elsewhere. Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have filed complaints with the World Trade Organisation, funded by the tobacco industry, claiming the law unfairly restricts trade, although their trade with Australia is minimal.
Many smokers in Australia remain defiant.
"The pictures don't affect me. I just ignore them. You just grab a smoke and put it away," said Victor El Hage as he purchased a pack with a photograph of a mouth tumour. "Honestly, there's only one reason I'd stop, and that's my little girl."
Additional reporting by Reuters