By 2012 the government intends to ensure that all cigarettes sold in Australia are in plain packaging. However the tobacco industry is fighting back in an attempt to block their plans.

The big tobacco companies are bank rolling a series of newspaper and television ads for an alliance of small retailers and have hired Melbourne based PR firm, civic Group, to manage the campaign.

They are happy to pay big bucks and intend to run the campaign for as long as it takes. This includes an estimated $5million so far for the ads run on behalf of the Alliance of Australian Retailers. On top of this a reported $4million was spent on an advertising blitz over the finals season of the NRL and AFL.

The ABC’s Lateline program has uncovered documentation which supports the claim that the tobacco companies intend to exert pressure on the government until they relent.

According to the ABC, an email from Civic Group’s Jason Allworth to Philip Morris read, “Effective political campaigns only work when the targeted decision makers believe that the campaign will be ongoing and intensive. In short, that the campaign will keep going and keep damaging their political standing unless they change their position.”

Professor Simon Chapman from the school of public health at the University of said “The extraordinary proposition here is that the industry are throwing millions and millions of dollars at the idea that plain packaging won’t work. Why are they spending all this money trying to defeat something which won’t work? If it won’t work, it’s not going to hurt them.”

He continued “The international tobacco companies are of course terrified that this measure will domino all around the world, just as many things which have originated in Australia have.”

Apparently the Civic Group recommended using third parties, including retail groups to sell their message. Not surprisingly the Alliance of Australian Retailers was set up soon after. According to their website they are owners of Australian corner stores, milk bars, newsagents and service stations.

On their website they state “We are fed up with excessive regulation that is making it harder for us to run our businesses. The government proposal to mandate plain packaging for cigarettes is the last straw. That’s why we have formed The Alliance of Australian Retailers Pty Ltd.”

Sheryle Moon from the Alliance confirmed “The Alliance is financially supported by three tobacco companies.”

Professor Mike Daube from Council on Smoking and Health was also one of the medical experts who recommended plain packaging laws, he said “What this tells us is that far from being the innocent retailer’s campaign that it pretends to be, this is a campaign that has been developed, masterminded and run to the finest detail by the Philip Morris company.”

He continued “Now this is an international company, and it becomes so clear from these documents that it’s been run by the Philip Morris company in association with British American Tobacco and Imperial.”

In a statement Philip Morris Limited said “There is nothing new about the fact that Philip Morris Limited supports the efforts of the Alliance of Australian Retailers urging the Government not to proceed with the proposal for plain packaging of tobacco products.”

“We are pleased to join with and support the efforts of corner shops, service stations and milk bars to stop implementation of this unproven policy which lacks any credible evidence that it will work.”

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha
Source: ABC, Lateline