Plain Packaging

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Plain packs Australia

Australia was the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products. From 1 December 2012 all tobacco companies were prohibited by law to use brand logos, colours or promotional text on their tobacco packaging. Branding is restricted to the name of the manufacturer and the name of the product displayed in a standard size and typeface and all packs must be produced in the same colour - referred to as 'drab olive-green'. All packets include graphic health warning images both on the front and back. [1] [2]

Following a legal challenge against the Australian legislation by Imperial Tobacco Australia, British American Tobacco Australia and Philip Morris Limited, a High Court ruling declared on 15 August 2012 that plain packaging in Australia was not in breach of the Australian constitution as it did not represent an appropriation of company trademarks by the government. The government were not using the brands for their own profit they were prohibiting their use by the tobacco companies. For further information on industry Intellectual Property claims, see Australia: Trademark Claims.

The plain packaging situation in Australia is being closely watched by other countries including, but not limited to, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada.

  • A UK public consultation on plain packaging ran between 16th April 2012 and 10th August 2012.
  • New Zealand started a public consultation in August 2012.
  • Canada’s health groups are calling for plain packaging. In August 2012, Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, said that the introduction of plain packaging in Australia will boost “international momentum” in favour of packaging.[3]


Proposals to introduce plain packaging date back to the mid-1980s. Since this time, such proposals have been considered by governments across the world.

In the early 1990s, the tobacco industry formulated a coordinated international strategy to counter proposed legislation on plain packaging and health warnings. Central to its campaign were claims that these laws would breach companies' intellectual property rights. Internal industry documents show that the companies' own legal advice did not support such claims.[4] (For a fuller account see History of Plain Packaging: Developing the Intellectual Property Argument) Nevertheless, several companies continue to make legal claims as a way of delaying legislation in the first instance and securing amendments post-legislation: "Even when arguments are sometimes not conclusive in themselves, they should be used uniquely to lobby local governments in our favour"[4] (also see Australia: Trademark claims).

Industry Arguments Against Plain Packaging

The tobacco industry uses similar arguments against plain packaging globally, including:

  • illegality of the legislation under international trade and intellectual property treaties[5]
  • lack of evidence that the legislation will lead to reduced smoking[5]
  • increased counterfeit cigarettes and smuggling, leading to taxpayers missing out on billions in tobacco excise while organised crime gangs make millions.[6][5]
  • cheaper more accessible illegal tobacco will actually increase smoking[6]
  • legal cigarette prices will also be reduced as the industry is forced to compete on price rather than brands, also increasing smoking rates even further[6]
  • burden of plain packaging on small businesses due to impaired customer service, stock management and lost sales to illegal operators[5]
  • it breaches companies' right to free expression. [7]

These arguments are discussed in more detail here Industry Arguments Against Plain Packaging.

Many of these arguments are examples of well-rehearsed industry tactics, to read about the public health responses to these arguments see Countering Industry Arguments against Plain Packaging.

Relevant TobaccoTactics Pages on Plain Packaging

For more information on plain packaging and a full list of TobaccoTactics pages visit:

Listed below are just some of the pages included in the plain packaging category:



  1. Dominic Rushe, Philip Morris to sue if Australia puts all cigarettes in plain green wrappers, Tobacco firm claims Canberra's ban on logos and other packaging restrictions will lose it billions, The Guardian, 27 June 2011
  2. Alison Rourke, 'Australia passes plain-packaging cigarette law', The Guardian, 10 November 2011
  3. W. Campbell, Plain packaging sought, The Canadian Press, 16 August 2012, accessed September 2012
  4. 4.0 4.1 Case study: Ban on cigarette advertisement and promotion within the scope of GATT/WTO, accessed 14 June 2012
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Philip Morris Asia Limited,Philip Morris Asia Files Lawsuit Against the Australian Government over Plain Packaging, News Release, 21 November 2011, accessed 2 December 2011
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 British American Tobacco, High Court plain packaging proceedings commence, Media Release, 1 December 2011, accessed 2 December 2011
  7., 'Namibia: Tobacco Firm Threatens Lawsuit', 16 November 2011, accessed 16 December 2011