Big Tobacco’s packaging fight goes up in smoke
We’re nearly at the day where we (officially) won’t be able to tell the difference between packets of Winnie Blues, Marlboros and Long Beaches. From Saturday, durrie packets have to be coloured a particularly foul brown.
“Look you stupid bastard, you’ve got no arms”
But what’s stunning is how little fight the tobacco industry has put up against the packaging laws.
The industry’s attempts to stop plain packaging gained no traction right from the very beginning, when a group posing as a representative for convenience stores popped up, stressing the economic impact of plain packaging on your local servos and 7-Elevens.
An association called the “Alliance of Australian Retailers” appeared out of no where, with a glossy website, a surprisingly large advertising budget and not a contact number or person with a surname in sight. They sent out media releases to journalists and purchased newspaper and radio advertisements.
Most people would think that the retail alliance was a real thing, particularly since Australia is already blessed with a confusing constellation of associations that dabble in the retail trade - the National Retail Association, Australian Retailers Association and the Australian National Retail Association.
But what is different about this association was that they had at the bottom of their website (which is filled with sob stories about how convenience store operators who don’t seem to have last names will struggle under plain packaging) a disclosure that it had been “supported” by the following organisations:
We are supported by: British American Tobacco Australia Limited (ACN 000 151 100); Philip Morris Limited (ACN 004 694 428); and Imperial Tobacco Australia Limited (ACN 088 148 681).
The same organisation pointed to research from Deloitte, that they themselves had commissioned, detailing the hideous effects plain packaging would have on convenience store operators. Big problems like how it would take a bit longer for servos to stack cigarettes in their places.
An unconvincing effort - and this was essentially tobacco companies’ main push against plain packaging. Mysteriously, not a peep has been heard from the group since July 2011, when plain packaging was introduced into Parliament.
You’d think a retailers group would have had something more to say given the state of the bricks-and-mortar shopping lately. Reeks of a failed front group.
And the scale of how much the tobacco companies have lost has become obvious in recent weeks, as Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has repeatedly and dramatically bashed the companies for trying to use ‘underhanded’ techniques to sell their wares.
The public, even the smokers of Australia, just didn’t get fired up enough about the issue to stop the legislation. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, perhaps because many of us aren’t sure plain packaging will make that much of a difference.
The only hope for the tobacco companies are appeals being made to the WTO (World Trade Organisation), as well as under a trade treaty Australia has signed with Hong Kong, over how their trademarks have been violated.
You can imagine they might do better fighting over technicalities with gigantic and complex government organisations most Australians have never heard of.
But at the moment, Big Tobacco in Australia is no longer looking so big. It’s on the floor, whimpering, hoping a future government won’t one day deliver the killer blow of stubbing out cigarettes forever.
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