Australia is the first country in the world to introduce plain cigarette packs aimed at reducing the number of children who start smoking, and support people to quit for good.

By Kylie Lindorff (Cancer Council Victoria)

In 2012, Australia became the first country in the world to introduce standard packs. And in this post, Kylie Lindorff, from the Cancer Council Victoria, tells us more about the Australian experience of binning this shocking form of marketing.

Lots of Brits romanticise and dream about Australia and our golden beaches, unique ecosystem and relaxed culture. But it’s not all rosy down under – one thing we have in common is a devastating amount of harm caused by tobacco.

Each year, smoking kills around 15,000 Australians and costs the country $31.5 billion Australian dollars (AUD) (around £18 billion) in health, social and economic terms. And, as in the UK, it’s the biggest preventable cause of cancer.

In 2011, the Australian Government became the first in the world to pass a new law aimed at reducing the number of children who start smoking, and support people to quit for good.

The law meant that cigarette packaging could no longer be brightly coloured and slickly designed, and had to be plain and standardised.

Four years on since these new packs hit the shelves and the question on many people’s lips is: ‘Have they worked?’

And the good news is that the latest data are overwhelmingly positive.

Has it worked?

Plain packaging has played its part in our comprehensive approach to reducing death and disease caused by smoking. Since plain packaging was introduced, smoking rates in Australia have had the biggest fall recorded in the last 20 years and people’s attitudes towards smoking continue to change.

And, importantly, this impact has been strongly seen among our young people – smoking among 12 -17 year olds is at the lowest levels ever recorded and between 2010 and 2013, fewer 18-24 year olds were smoking.

While fewer people are starting the lethal habit, research shows that smokers using standard packs are more likely to think their cigarettes are lower quality and less appealing. Quitting has become a higher priority, and we saw a large increase in the number of people contacting a smoking quit line since standard packs were introduced.

At the same time, the volume of tobacco in the Australian market has fallen by 11%.

Based on these promising early signs, I’m thrilled that the UK and France are following suit and introducing similar laws on packaging. And I hope these will have similar positive effects on their country’s health too.

More than just packs

Aside from standard packaging, we brought in several other measures alongside standard packs that have also had an impact.

For example, we invested in anti-smoking marketing campaigns, which helped to reduce smoking rates in the 1980s and 90s. Staged tax increases and tougher penalties for smuggling tobacco have also played a part.

Together, these actions send a clear message that Australia is committed to reducing the devastating harm caused by tobacco smoking.

Plain packs, plainly legal

As well as being the first country to introduce plain packaging, we were also the first to face the wrath of the tobacco industry. This response wasn’t surprising.

And it seems the tobacco industry in the UK has used similar tactics as it did in Australia.

In Australia, the tobacco industry spawned lobbying and campaigning groups with the sole aim of giving the impression they were the voice of concerned tobacco retailers and citizens.

But in reality, the industry’s agenda was controlled by private interests. One, the Alliance of Australian Retailers, received more than $5 million AUD in funding from the tobacco industry.

We thought it was vital to make clear what was supported by the public, and what was being ‘puppet-mastered’ by the tobacco industry, so we created an awareness campaign:

But where the tobacco industry really outdid itself was in legal challenges.

The four big tobacco companies launched a number of legal challenges against the Australian Government’s right to protect the health of their citizens. The industry has made various arguments including that its right to use trademarks and international treaties would prevent standard packs from going ahead. This is despite its own lawyers and authoritative bodies advising the rights they claim do not exist.

Tobacco companies pursued these challenges at an enormous cost. And not only has the industry lost two of the cases that have been finalised, but it was forced to pay the Government’s legal costs in its challenge to Australia’s constitution, which US comedian, John Oliver, brilliantly covered.

Through the World Trade Organisation, Australia is also responding to legal challenges from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras and Indonesia – and it has been reported that the tobacco multinationals Philip Morris and British American Tobacco are providing support to Dominican Republic and Honduras respectively.

Next stop, the World

Standard packs have been a real success in Australia, and they will go on to have a massive impact on the health of our nation. The latest government review of standard packs states that they are meeting their objectives and the policy’s effects are likely to grow over time.

And despite the industry’s opposition, it’s really promising that more and more countries are not being deterred from making a similar move. At my last count, 10 countries across five continents were considering implementing standard packs.

Standard packs will give millions of people across the world, including children, one less reason to smoke. By successfully introducing them in the UK and Australia we stand as a united front against the lethal interests of the tobacco industry.

With many more countries set to follow, I’m confident that we’re a step closer to making every day World No Tobacco Day.

This article was originally published here.