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World No Tobacco Day falls on May 31

Plain packaging is an important demand reduction measure that reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products, restricts use of tobacco packaging as a form of tobacco advertising and promotion, limits misleading packaging and labeling and increases the effectiveness of health warnings.

Plain packaging prohibits the use of logos, colours, brand images or promotional information on packaging other than brand names and product names displayed in a standard colour and font style. The guidelines of Article 11 and 13 of the WHO-FCTC
recommend that Parties consider adoption of plain packaging.

Australia became the first country to fully implement plain packaging in December 2012. “The tobacco plain packaging measure is an investment in the long-term health of Australians,” explains Jane Halton, Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. “It is a crucial part of the Australian Government’s comprehensive package of tobacco control measures to get tobacco smoking down to our aim of 10 per cent or lower of the population.”

By enacting the new legislation as part of a package of measures, Australia has led the way in implementing Articles 11 and 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the global tobacco control treaty that commits its 180 Parties to reduce demand and supply of tobacco products.

The full effects of the plain packaging measure will be seen over the long term. However, tobacco control experts in Australia are quite enthusiastic about early anecdotal indications that plain packaging may be having an effect.

According to Kylie Lindorff, Chair of the Cancer Council Australia’s Tobacco Issues Committee, the number of calls to the Quitline, Australia’s smoking cessation support service, have increased considerably since the law entered into force. “Many, many smokers have commented that they don’t like the look of the new packs and also believe the taste of the cigarettes is worse, even though the tobacco companies have confirmed that the product is the same,” reports Lindorff. “This proves just how powerful packaging is in conveying messages about supposed quality and features of a certain brand.”

The tobacco industry has taken high profile, aggressive measures against the Australian legislation, but these have not been a deterrent. In August 2012, Australia’s High Court dismissed constitutional challenges brought by tobacco companies, awarding costs in favour of the Australian Government.

WHO actively supported Australia’s pioneering tobacco control measure and is standing firmly behind all countries that face intimidation from big tobacco.

The plain packaging experience in Australia is being watched closely by other countries. New Zealand has announced its intention to introduce similar legislation and France, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the European Union are also considering tougher packaging laws for tobacco products. In 2015, Ireland, the UK and Northern Ireland and France passed laws to implement plain packaging from May 2016.

Ireland became the second country in the world and the first in Europe to pass such legislation. In Ireland, standardized packaging will have corporate labels and branding removed, while the colour and font of the brand name will be standardized and graphic picture warnings will double in size.

On March 16, the United Kingdom joined the ranks of the countries that introduced tobacco plain-packaging rules. The House of Lords, UK’s upper chamber of Parliament, voted for the new law, after the lower chamber, the House of Commons, adopted it one week prior. This step has completed the legislative process and the law will become effective in May 2016.

Ministers and other high-level representatives of health ministries from Australia, France, Hungary, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Uruguay met in Paris on July 20, last year, to express their aspiration for tobacco free societies and promote effective tobacco control measures, specifically the standardized or plain packaging of tobacco products. The Head of Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva actively participated in the meeting by moderating the discussion on plain packaging.

Other countries are taking steps to put pictorial health warnings on tobacco packages or increase the size of existing warnings, as an interim measure to plain packaging.
Sri Lanka, which now has legislation on 80 per cent Pictorial Health Warnings, is in the process of considering the introduction of Plain Packaging on the cigarette packs introduced into the market.