Thursday, May 17, 2012

Plain tobacco packaging at Georgetown

Nicola Roxon, Australian AG, Why Are Plain Packs Making Big Tobacco So Angry?

If used correctly, tobacco kills, which makes it unique; still a leading cause of preventable death in Australia: 50,000/year.  Measures include restricting point of sale displays, and banning smoking in restaurants. One state outlawed smoking in cars with children.  Proportion of daily smokers has fallen from 30% to 15.1%, one of the lowest rates in the world; much more concentrated now in people in disadvantaged groups.  Various other plans: banning internet ads, reducing duty-free amount.

Key element of strategy: plain packaging: graphic health warnings will make up about ½ the front of the pack—idea is to make it impossible for you to look at anything but the warning.  Warning text is huge on front and sides; only differentiation will be the brand in standard font and color: no logos, no branded colors.  This takes away the last marketing tool.

Packaging is used to promote the brand: turns it into expensive, classy, desirable obect.  Meticulously designed to look and feel good, attracting new smokers.  Showed video of kids in the UK evaluating how nice cigarette packages looked—“red is nice, like a Ferrari; … I think it would be fun to play with.”  An ad message that smokers carry around with them all the time.

With the current conflicting branding, people can be distracted/get a misleading impression of the actual dangers of smoking.

Response: astroturfing—supposedly small retailers, funded by tobacco companies.  Claimed that would be very expensive to introduce plain packaging—half a billion cost to retailers claimed based on interviews with 6 retailers.  Slippery slope: could this happen to your soda?  Your candy?  But most manufacturers aren’t biting.  Next claim: will lead to illegal cigarettes which help the terrorists.  Donations to political opponents; ultimately unsuccessful.

Claim: the restriction on TMs creates a constitutional problem analogous to a US takings claim.  Comparison products: would paying for a required warning be comparable to requiring payment to mandate a warning on rat poison?  Notably, PM Australia changed ownership to be owned by a Hong Kong company, then instituted bilateral Australia-HK trade proceedings; similarly the Ukraine is claiming a trade violation (many other countries refused to take action on behalf of the tobacco companies). 

Change in tactics: one popular brand is now distributing metal tins (scroll down) with cigarettes, hoping people will use the tins once the plain packages come into effect.  This is evidence that they do think plain packaging will work.

Q: what about the viewpoint of people in indigenous communities?  Some see paternalism/deciding for them when there are other huge health problems; they see smoking as recreational and haven't been reached by previous campaigns.

A: we recognize the issue—for the first time in 2010 we had an campaign targeted at indigenous people created by indigenous designers: breaking the chain.  Taking advice from the communities themselves.  Smoking among aboriginal health workers is very high.

In response to another Q: the politics are very different—we didn’t face any serious opposition other than from the tobacco companies themselves.

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