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Au Makes ‘Plain Packaging’ Debate Obscure with Lack of Data

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By Athena Yenko | April 4, 2014 3:59 PM EST

Australia became the very first country to impose plain packaging for cigarettes manufacturing companies.

However, the country brings 'Plain Packaging' debate in obscurity with lack of data, Reuters reports.

With the ongoing debate on whether the plain packaging does provoke significant change and is worth being followed by other countries, it is Australia which caused obscurity in its refusal to provide important data.

A survey conducted by Australia in 2012 claimed that plain packaging stirred an inclination for smokers to quit. Another report from a smoking helpline in 2013 said that there was 78 per cent increase in calls related to plain packaging. A recent report tracking quitters due to plain packaging is due for release by December 2014.

While the Australian government said it refused to release data because there of risk involving sensitive commercial information on Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, critics said that Australia's refusal is dubious as all surveys conducted were self-reported.

"The government now has 12 months of data. Why is the government withholding data?" Simon Chapman, professor of public health at the University of Sydney, asked Reuters.

Kay McNiece, spokeswoman for the Department of Health refused to comment when asked if Australia was considering conducting other surveys aside from self-reported activity.

In 2013, Marlboro maker Philip Morris reported a 0.3 per cent increase in its delivery despite the imposed plain packaging.

Although the report of increase was questionable as there was no detail to back it up, Clayton Ford, a spokesman for Philip Morris in Australia, said the company's sales remain stable. She clarified that the company's closure of operation in Australia was in no way related to plain packaging.

Philip Morris alleged that Australia's Bilateral Investment Treaty with Hong Kong violated the company's intellectual property rights.

The treaty was also being questioned by Ukraine, Indonesia, Cuba, Honduras and the Dominican Republic - with a call to upend the law.

However, in the midst of the ongoing debate, Britain said that it will be following Australia's plain packaging lead in the days to come. The new regulations will take effect in May 2015.

Jane Ellison, a minister in Britain's Department of Health, said that The Chantler review was instrumental to its decision to follow suit.

According to the review, everyday, there are more than 600 children aged 11 to 15 who consider to start smoking, or more than 200,000 yearly. The review said that cutting down this figure by at least 2 per cent - 4,000 less smokers - will already be a significant achievement for the government.

"There is very strong evidence that exposure to tobacco advertising and promotion increases the likelihood of children taking up smoking. Industry documents show that tobacco packaging has for decades been designed, in the light of market research, with regard to what appeals to target groups. Branded cigarettes are 'badge' products, frequently on display, which therefore act as a 'silent salesman," state The Chantler Review.

"Tobacco packages appear to be especially important as a means of communicating brand imagery in countries like Australia and the UK which have comprehensive bans on advertising and promotion. It is notable that Japan Tobacco International responded to the decision to introduce tobacco plain packaging in Australia by attempting to sue the Australian government for taking possession of its mobile 'billboard'. It is now for government to make its decision on whether or not to go ahead," the review noted. 

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