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Australia is serious on the tobacco legal fight

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Australia has become the latest sensational battleground in the ongoing global fight between Big Tobacco and government regulators. Australia already has some of the toughest anti-smoking measures in the world, with grotesque pictures of cancer tumours and gangrenous limbs printed on every packet, and cigarettes hidden in cabinets out of sight of consumers in shops. But the plain packaging legislation would arm the Australian authorities with the toughest anti-smoking measures in the world. Tobacco companies could also be hit especially hard in emerging markets – where branding is a vital marketing tool in luring smokers from cheap cigarettes to more expensive ones – if governments there followed Australia’s lead.

The tobacco giant Philip Morris has created a new scene by threatening to sue the Australian government for possibly billions of dollars. The company, which owns big brands in this field, is claiming that the Australian government is devaluing its intellectual property and that this is in breach of an international investment treaty signed between Canberra and Hong Kong, where Philip Morris is based. By going down this path, it means that the issue will be settled not in the Australian courts but by international arbitration. If there were to be compensation, it would be decided under United Nations rules. One of the arguments that Philip Morris will make is that there’s no proof that generic packaging works, but that’s because logos and branding have never before been banned. For its part, the Australian government is confident that its public health argument will win the day, even though the matter will not be decided within its jurisdiction.

The tobacco industry has been up in arms against the proposed changes, which are expected to be implemented from January 2012. Smoking kills 15,000 Australians every year and is the largest preventable cause of disease and death in the country. Australia’s government has proposed to ban logos and branding on tobacco packaging. Public health advocates believe that reducing brand identification will make smoking less attractive. Professor David Currow of the Cancer Institute of New South Wales says that two out of three smokers want to give up in the next six months. One out of two smokers has an emotional attachment to their particular brand and if we can break that we’re going to be helping the two out of three smokers who want to give up.

Editor :   Health Filed under Healthcare.

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