After months of debate in the media and parliament, new laws requiring cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging will officially come into effect in Australia in 2012, and Curtin researcher Professor Mike Daube couldn’t be happier.
The renowned public health expert was one of the driving factors in the law’s introduction, by chairing the committee which first recommended the changes to the Federal government.
After passing both houses of parliament in November, the new law will see all cigarettes sold in a plain brown pack, adorned only with health warnings and graphic imagery, from December 1, 2012.
Professor Daube said he was delighted after years of championing the initiative to government officials. He first chaired a government committee recommending plain-packaging for cigarettes almost 20 years ago.
“It shows you that in public health, ‘overnight success’ takes time,” he said.
While Australia has drastically reduced the number of smokers over the years, with only 15 per cent of adults now smoking, Professor Daube said further preventative measures were still vital to reduce the impact of cigarettes on the Australian population.
“It’s still our largest cause of death and disease,” he said.
“Plain packaging isn’t a magic bullet; it’s one component of the strategy we need. What’s important is the government isn’t introducing plain-packaging on its own; it’s introducing a suite of measures, like public education, an indigenous smoking program and measures to protect non-smokers.
“But even on its own, plain-packaging is probably the most important tobacco measure we’ve seen in 20 years, and one reason we know that is the tobacco companies are opposing it more ferociously than anything we’ve seen in over 20 years.”
The introduction of plain-packaging was important as it took away the final form of advertising available to tobacco companies, Professor Daube said, before adding there was evidence the approach would both encourage adults to quit, and stop children from taking up the habit.
“If you offer kids two packs, one plain and one glossy with the same cigarettes in each, they think the glossy pack tastes better,” he said.
“Australia’s the first country to do this; we’re the world leader. Once we’ve done it, other countries will follow. So the global tobacco industry is desperate to prevent it happening here, because they know once it’s happened here then it will spread.”
The move coincides with Curtin and other WA universities becoming completely cigarette-free from January 2012 onwards, an initiative Professor Daube was also involved with. With only four per cent of Curtin students estimated to be regular smokers, he said the move wouldn’t affect the vast majority of the Curtin community and could be enforced without being heavy handed toward smokers.
“We know the best way to do this is to implement it in a positive way. There will be one or two people who will offend, and that doesn’t mean someone goes and beats them up, they just get a gentle tap on the shoulder.
“I mean, who’d have thought 20 years ago that Dublin pubs could be smoke free?”