Big Tobacco misinformation 'undermines' success of plain packaging

19 June, 2014

Ongoing misinformation about tobacco sales in Australia is being driven by the tobacco industry to undermine the effectiveness of plain packaging, according to Cancer Council Australia.

Cancer Council Australia CEO and medical oncologist, Professor Ian Olver, in a statement last week (18 June) said independent tobacco sales figures published by the Department of Health showed tobacco consumption in Australia in the March quarter of 2014 was at an all-time low.

New Treasury figures1 were further indication of a decline in smoking, with tobacco clearances (including excise and customs duty) falling by 3.4 per cent in 2013 relative to 2012 when tobacco plain packaging was introduced.

"The so-called data being spun by the tobacco industry to claim that plain packaging has not worked is plain wrong," Professor Olver said.

"If we used tobacco industry claims to guide health policy, life expectancy in Australia would be much lower than it is today."

Professor Olver said the latest tobacco industry misinformation is part of a concerted campaign to undermine the effects of plain packaging.

"Plain packaging was introduced to stop young people and other non-smokers becoming addicted to tobacco products in the first place," he said.

"The only independent analysis of plain packaging2 shows that it is working exactly as expected – to reduce the visual appeal of the product and enhance the graphic warnings.

"The latest Health Department figures show that tobacco consumption is continuing to decrease, and with it, the risk of Australians dying prematurely from one of the 15 cancer types caused by smoking.

"The tobacco industry's misinformation campaign is aimed at undermining the introduction of plain packaging in the UK.

"In a country of 63 million people, plain packaging would be a major blow to the tobacco industry’s profits."

A 'promotional' campaign for Big Tobacco

AMA President A/Prof Brian Owler also joined the chorus of disapproval, condemning The Australian's story as a "promotion of smoking and Big Tobacco".

A/Prof Owler said that Australia's leadership on tobacco control, including the plain packaging laws, has bipartisan support and has been applauded by public health advocates around the world.

"The smoking debate is not about politics or ideology, it is about life and death," he said.

"Smoking kills – the evidence is in and has been for a long time.

"Actions that stop people smoking save millions of lives around the world, and improve the lives and quality of life of millions more.

"Doctors see the horrific harms caused by smoking every day in surgeries and operating theatres, and it's not pretty. We have to stop people throwing their lives and health away.

"As a modern responsible society, we must do all we can to help or convince people to stop smoking for the sake of their health and the health of others.

"We have come a long way, but there is still so much more to do.

"The actions of the tobacco industry in manipulating statistics and engaging in dirty tricks marketing are deplorable – and should not be promoted or encouraged.

"The key statistic is that the number of smokers in Australia fell in 2013 by 1.4 per cent (ABS).

"The AMA urges the government to restate its support for the plain packaging laws and tobacco control generally, and we urge The Australian and other media to stop giving Big Tobacco a free ride in promoting its killer products," A/Prof Owler said.



2. Wakefield, Hayes, Durkin, Borland, Introduction effects of the Australian plain packaging policy on adult smokers: a cross-sectional study, British Medical Journal, 2013