Prominent Australians of the Year have joined forces to sign an open letter calling on “all political parties” (IE read the Federal Opposition) to commit to supporting plain packaging of cigarettes.

Their letter follows a tobacco-industry funded campaign against the Federal Government’s plans to introduce plain packaging (which was was one of a raft of tobacco control measures recommended by the National Preventative Health Taskforce).

Presumably, journalists will be asking questions about this issue at the National Press Club debate today between Health Minister Nicola Roxon and her counterpart Peter Dutton. Perhaps they will also ask whether there is any truth to the rumour, mentioned in Crikey this week, that the tobacco industry has shelved its full-page advertisements, for the time being anyway, after pressure from the Opposition.

Professor Simon Chapman from the University of Sydney, who co-authored a major review of the evidence on plain packaging with Becky Freeman, said: “I do not recall any health issue where all medical Australians of the Year have come together to urge political action like this. If Australia proceeds with this policy, it will domino around the world in the next few years and completely change the way that cigarettes are sold for ever. This is an historic moment.”

Open Letter from Six Australians of the Year

Prescription drugs which save lives and promote health are stored in dispensaries and sold in plain packs with only the drug name and dosage information. Tobacco products, which kill 15,000 Australians each year, are sold in attractive boxes designed to maximise their appeal, particularly to young smokers.

Legislation for plain tobacco packaging removes one of the tobacco industry’s last remaining means to promote their products in appealing ways. This measure is recommended by health authorities as a key part of our national tobacco control program to accelerate the decline in smoking and save many lives.

The tobacco industry’s current campaign shows how effective they believe plain packaging will be at reducing tobacco consumption.

They are also concerned that this ground-breaking political action will lead to similar legislation in other countries which have historically looked to us for leadership in reducing tobacco use.  Over time, global plain packaging could save millions of lives.

Smoking has declined from nearly 70% of men and 30% of women in the early 1960s to less than 17% today. Tobacco manufacturers’ and retailers’ interests in maintaining high smoking levels to maximise sales have thus been very properly subordinated to concerns to promote community health.

We condemn the tobacco industry’s cynical campaign and call on all political parties to commit themselves unequivocally to supporting legislation on plain packaging as part of a comprehensive approach to reducing the devastating toll of death and disease caused by smoking.

Professors Peter Doherty (Australian of the Year 1997), Sir Gustav Nossal (Australian of the Year 2000), Fiona Stanley (Australian of the Year 2003), Fiona Wood (Australian of the Year 2005), Ian Frazer (Australian of the Year 2006), Patrick McGorry (Australian of the Year 2010)
11 August 2010

Update: According to this report in the Daily Telegraph: Coles, through its subsidiary Coles Express, forced one of the key groups in the tobacco industry funded alliance, the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, to withdraw from it.

Being associated with Big Tobacco is not only a bad look for political parties….

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