Giant cigarette producer British American Tobacco got a stern reproach from the Health Ministry for issuing products that were not fully compliant with Australia's strict plain packaging laws, which started gradual implementation in October 2012.
Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has confirmed that packets of cigarettes cite in an October report by ABC carry markings that were unacceptable to the new rules governing the packaging and marketing of locally retailed tobacco products.
The laws dictate that 75 per cent of each cigarette front pack carry explicit warnings on the health hazards that medical doctors said were connected with smoking, plus the prohibition on any form of advertising.
In the particular packs pointed by ABC, Ms Plibersek said "they have letters on them like NYC, LDN for London, SYD for Sydney, AUS for Australia, we think those sort of letter tags suggest some meaning to people who are smoking."
"It's certainly not random as it should be. It's the cigarette companies trying to push the boundaries. We have asked them to change their production," the health minister was quoted by ABC as saying on Thursday.
Another breach identified by Ms Plibersek is the type of paper that was used in the production of cigarette casings, in which there is "a sort of watermark in the paper of some of the cigarettes."
"We believe that it is a breach. We believe plain paper means plain paper, it doesn't mean watermarked paper, so we've also told the tobacco companies that they need to change that," Ms Plibersek said.
These violations would have meant fines of no less than $100 million for BATA but the government will be lenient for now, Ms Plibersek said, adding that the current tobacco stocks with the cited breaches would be allowed to remain in circulation until they are sold out.
In a statement, BATA has declared that it would work with the government "for a mutually beneficial outcome" on the matter, adding that the violations will be rectified in the new production batches.
"They were testing the boundaries and we've gone after them and they've rolled over, they've agreed to change what they're doing," Ms Plibersek said.
"There is a clear set of rules about what is allowed and if we start allowing variations then the tobacco companies will push the boundaries," the health minister added in a separate interview with News Ltd.