Sept 28, 2011
Health Minister Nicola Roxon has returned from the United Nations, where she says ministers from around the world applauded the Federal Government’s tobacco plain-packaging legislation.
If passed, all cigarette brands in Australia will be sold in olive green packaging from July 2012.
The pictures of diseased body parts, sickly babies and dying people will cover 75 per cent of each packet, and tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text will be banned.
But the legislation has to pass the Senate, while tobacco companies have also threatened to sue the Government if the bill is passed.
Ms Roxon has been busy preaching about the Government’s plans at UN headquarters in New York.
“There’s enormous interest in the Gillard Government’s plain-packaging legislation,” she said.
“It really is exciting the world and reinvigorating the debate about the ways to reduce harm from tobacco.
“We have countries from Norway and Uruguay, through to France and South Africa and the US, even New York mayor [Michael] Bloomberg, all interested in what we’re doing.
“I think the number of times that there was spontaneous applause when we were presenting this at different forums is an indication that our presentation and our action is striking a chord with other countries and making them look again at what they might be able to do in their own country.”
Ms Roxon says there was some sense that other countries are waiting to see how the Australian Government survives the battle with big tobacco before they act.
But she says it helped that she was able to meet officials from countries being sued by tobacco countries.
“We know that this is the way tobacco companies operate, it’s their usual course of business, and they sue countries and are currently doing it right now as we speak for introducing measures that we’ve had in Australia for many decades,” she said.
“I don’t think we should be scared off by threats of legal action.
“It was good to be able to compare stories for countries that are also being courageous in tackling tobacco, and we know that lawsuits is part of it.
“Some countries are watching and waiting, others are ready to take this action irrespective of what might happen in the courts.”
‘Huffing and puffing’
Ms Roxon says tobacco companies are scared of the Australian Government setting a precedent with the laws.
“I’m sure that part of the huffing and puffing from big tobacco companies is that they are terrified for other countries following us,” she said.
“We have a relatively low smoking rate because of our other successes in controlling the use of tobacco in Australia.
“So we’re a fairly small market but certainly they don’t want a precedent set.”
Tobacco legislation has fallen off the program in the Parliament twice in the last two months, and it is not back on the Parliament agenda until October.
Ms Roxon says the Senate is being frustrating with the legislation.
“Unfortunately the mysteries of the Senate mean that sometimes they spend a lot of time debating when they’re going to debate things rather than actually doing the debating,” she said.
“I won’t be the first minister of a government to be a bit frustrated about that timing, but do remember that these laws are scheduled to come into being on the first of January next year.
“We are keen for them to be passed; we have commitments and enough votes for it to pass the Senate.
“It’s now just a matter of programming for it to be on. I would have liked it to have been passed last week, but the Senate was unable to reach it.”