In an unprecedented initiative, the Australian government passed legislation that would make branding and logos on any tobacco products a crime. Starting December 12, 2012, cigarettes are to be sold in drab brown packaging with giant graphic health warnings covering about 75% packs. One can only tell the brand from their names in the same font and size for all brands. In response, top cigarette manufacturers Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial, and Japan Tobacco filed lawsuits against the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act (TPP) with the Australian High Court.
“This is predictable. Worldwide, whenever any progress is made for public health and saving lives, these tobacco companies sue government just like they did here,” states Atty. Irene Reyes, Managing Director of HealthJustice, a public health policy NGO recently recognized with a Bloomberg Award for Global Tobacco Control.
In 2010, Department of Health under then Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral issued an order, “Requiring Graphic Health Information and Prohibiting Misleading Descriptors on Tobacco Packaging and Labeling”. 5 tobacco companies sued DOH in different trial courts. Fortune Tobacco and Japan Tobacco Inc. requested for the nullification of AO 2010-13. Mighty Corporation, La Suerte, and Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC) asked for declaratory relief.
“It’s tragic how other countries are breaking ground with plain packaging while here in the Philippines, we can’t even implement picture warnings in cigarette packs,” continues Reyes. “We’re still stuck with text warnings that are ineffective, especially for children, the youth and the illiterate.”
Aside from the legal challenges, British American Tobacco Australia and Imperial Tobacco also set up websites to convince the public that plain packaging is an insult to individual decision-making. Even with all these, the Australian government stands unfazed.
“This laudable move towards plain packaging must not be derailed by veiled tactics from companies with vested interests. Only then can progress be made to tackle tobacco-associated diseases, which are largely preventable, but mostly lethal,” declares Australia Health Minister Nicola Roxon.
Reyes concludes, “The government should prioritize saving lives in their agenda. With 240 Filipinos dying every day due to tobacco-related causes, we can’t overstate its urgency. The Philippines is obliged by its ratification of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to place effective warnings on cigarette packs.”