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World told to get ready for plain packaging

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Australia has received a big filip in its fight to protect its tobacco plain packaging laws after the World Health Organisation launched an international campaign declaring that all governments had to “get ready” plain packaging.

Since it introduced the world’s first plain packaging laws in 2012, Australia has been playing virtually a lone hand in a global battle with major tobacco companies determined to have the laws overturned.

So far, Britain, Ireland and France have joined Australia in passing plain packaging legislation, and both, Canada and New Zealand have announced plans to introduce plain packaging legislation.

Tobacco companies have failed in successive bids to have the laws overturned by national courts and international tribunals.

The latest setback came last month when the highest court of the European Union ruled in favour of regulations that give its member states the option of implementing plain packaging for tobacco products.

This followed the acceptance of the Permanent Court of Arbitration sitting in Singapore of Australia’s argument that it did not have jurisdiction to hear a claim by Philip Morris Asia that the legislation breached trademark protection laws.

The WHO used World No Tobacco Day to join the fight, launching its “Get ready for Plain Packaging” campaign for more effective health warnings on tobacco products around the globe.

The WHO said tobacco packaging was a form of advertising and promotion, often misled consumers and served to hide the deadly reality of tobacco use.

Plain packaging requires tobacco products be sold without marketing gimmicks and with clearly displayed health warnings. Australia was the first country in the world to introduce the legislation. Introduced in 2012, research has indicated that Australia has seen a reduction of 100,000 fewer smokers as a direct result from the plain packaging legislation.

The AMA has been a loud supporter of plain packaging legislation. Past AMA President Dr Andrew Pesce was alongside Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon as she released the world-first draft Bill and the proposed design for the plain packaging packs.

The WHO said that plain packaging built upon other measures as part of a comprehensive multi-sectoral approach to tobacco control. For more information about the campaign, visit http://www.who.int/campaigns/no-tobacco-day/2016/en/

Kirsty Waterford