Sept 13, 2010
HEALTH groups have called on federal authorities to pull ads claiming plain cigarette packaging ”won’t work, so why do it”, after Big Tobacco was revealed to be behind the campaign.
Documents leaked to The Sydney Morning Herald show the tobacco industry is funding the campaign to stop plain packaging being introduced.
Further, it is employing the public relations firm to run the campaign, approving who will do media interviews and managing the strategy for lobbying government.
VicHealth chief executive Todd Harper called for urgent action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ”to shut down this dishonest campaign”.
He said the leaked information showed ”how far the tobacco industry was prepared to go to buy the outcome that it wanted” and if the campaign succeeded, more people would die.
The Rudd government in April announced plans for cigarettes to be sold in plain brown packaging from 2012, bearing only graphic health warnings and the brand in black typeface. The TV ads opposing the move claim to be authorised by the Alliance of Australian Retailers.
But the alliance is not paying for the ads – tobacco giant Philip Morris is, as invoices and contracts of engagement show.
Last month prominent health groups complained to the ACCC, urging it to investigate the ”intentionally misleading” ads. Mr Harper said the ACCC should urgently re-open its investigation after the latest revelations.
The Victorian president of the Public Health Association of Australia, Helen Keleher, said the ads were deceitful and a ”backdoor way of advertising the product”. It is illegal to advertise cigarettes on Australian TV, and Professor Keleher said the ban should be extended to all ads funded by the tobacco industry.
Calls to pull the ads come as the tobacco industry prepares to pour $3.97 million, on top of the $5.4 million already spent, into phase two of its campaign, to coincide with the AFL and NRL finals season this weekend.
Now a minority government is confirmed, the group plans to lobby government and opposition MPs to block the legislation. The stakes are high for tobacco giants trying to stop Australia becoming the first country to insist on plain packaging.
The leaked paper trail shows the mastermind behind the campaign is Chris Argent, Philip Morris’s director of corporate affairs. He declined to comment but the documents show he employed PR company The Civic Group, which co-ordinates the alliance campaign.
Alliance spokesman Craig Glasby said disclosing the tobacco funding ”was important and in hindsight we would have done that”. The Civic Group’s Rora Furman said the alliance had been upfront about funding from the tobacco industry.
Source: The Age (September 12, 2010)