Australia: Plain packs by December 2012

November 7, 2011

Labor’s legislation on plain packaging of cigarettes is set to pass parliament next week, but tobacco products won’t be sold in olive-brown packages until the end of 2012 – five months later than originally planned.

The federal government says it will ram the draft laws through the Senate next Thursday with a “limited” debate followed by a vote.

The coalition supports the main plain packaging legislation but not an associated trademarks bill.

However, both will pass the Senate with the support of the Greens.

Cigarettes were to be sold in plain packs from July 1 next year but Health Minister Nicola Roxon announced on Wednesday that implementation would be pushed back until December 1.

Ms Roxon said the delay was necessary because it had taken longer than expected for the upper house to pass the legislation after it sailed through the House of Representatives in August.

“(But) that’s a small setback,” she told reporters in Canberra.

“Having a few last gasps for the tobacco companies doesn’t stop the fact we are going to put an end to marketing of tobacco products in Australia.”

Ms Roxon said there had been a lot of shenanigans in the Senate “and a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Liberal Party” to pass the bills.

But opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton rubbished that claim.

Mr Dutton said Labor had delayed its own bill because it had other priorities – namely passing the controversial carbon tax legislation which has dominated debate in the upper house this week.

“The government runs the agenda in the Senate,” Mr Dutton told reporters.

“We want to see a reduction of smoking rates in our country.”

Under Labor’s revised timeline, the preliminary provisions of the plain packaging legislation will now come into effect when they receive royal assent – rather than on January 1.

Manufacturers will have to produce plain packets from October 1 next year instead of May 20, while retailers will be banned from selling any branded stock from December 1 instead of July 1.

Big tobacco has welcomed the delay but says cigarette makers need more time still to prepare.

Imperial Tobacco insists it needs up to 17 months from when the legislation is finalised.

“December 1, 2012, remains an impossible deadline,” Imperial spokeswoman Sonia Stewart said in a statement.

British American Tobacco Australia (BATA) told a parliamentary inquiry in August that manufacturers and retailers should be given until 2014 to make the change to plain packs.

The company has also vowed to challenge the world-first legislation in court once it passes parliament.

BATA argues that the commonwealth is planning to unlawfully acquire its intellectual property rights.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (November 2, 2011)