Would you buy a pack of cigarettes that didn’t have a slick, glossy color-coordinated logo on it, but only had a gigantic closeup photograph of mouth cancer?
The Australian government is betting you won’t, which is why they will introduce legislation in July that will completely eradicate brand logos from cigarette packaging. Instead, packs of smokes will be covered with large warning labels and huge, graphic photos of the side effects of smoking. Cancer. Eye disease. Sick children. The only indication of what kind of cigarette the package contains will be displayed in a small, text-only label in a uniform font. They are hoping this will deter people from buying the cigarettes in the first place, thus cutting down consumption and all related side effects of smoking on society.
The tobacco companies are, as you would expect, howling with rage — especially since, if this works, other countries are expected to follow suit. On Monday, Philip Morris filed a notice of claim with the Government of Australia, marking their intent to fight this with all of their (significant) financial resources.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Philip Morris claims that removal of its logo will devalue its international property. Because the Australian arm of the tobacco manufacturer is owned by Philip Morris Asia, they will also claim in court that this law will breach a trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong. The filing of the suit has triggered a three month negotiation period, then Philip Morris will take it to international arbitration.
The Australian government is refusing to back down. Nicola Roxon, the Australian Health minister, stated bluntly that the government will put the “health interests of the public before the interests — or profits — of tobacco companies.”
Smoking has a significant impact in Australia, with 18% of males and 15% of females classifying themselves as daily smokers in 2007. In 2003, there were over 15,000 smoking-related deaths in the country, with the social costs of smoking adding up to $31.5 billion in 2004-5.