Australia: Plain Cigarette Packaging a World First

Australia’s new precedent-setting plain cigarette packaging law, which began on 1 December 2012, has been greeted with pleasure by most onliners. The twitter hashtag #plainpackaging and search “plain packaging” have had few negative tweets. The Huffington Post reflected an international interest in this world first:

Cigarettes packed in plain packaging have hit the shelves in Australia, making the Oceanic country the first in the world to have banned all tobacco company logos and colors from cigarette packets.

Tobacco plain packaging laws come into effect in Australia

Tobacco plain packaging laws come into effect in Australia
Photo by Maria Nguyen © Copyright Demotix 1 Dec 2012

Andrew Dixon’s blog Sex, Drugs & Politics sits somewhere in the middle:

The tobacco companies are saying publicly that it won’t work. My studies of brand equity say it most certainly will. The government calls it “a win for families,” which is what they call everything they do. Welcome to Brand Wars, where the fight over the right to brand an offering has just been lost.

But he is having it both ways. He argues that:

Without question, plain packaging is a positive outcome for public health.

But Andrew is also concerned about the legal and commercial aspects:

But it sets an unacceptable precedent for the government to steal (or destroy) incredibly valuable private intellectual property.

Blogger Don Aitkin wonders ‘Are plain cigarette packets a great public health achievement?':

I am no supporter of the nanny state, and see the plain packaging of cigarettes as a success for would-be regulators more than as a great victory for public health. Perhaps it will reduce even further the tendency for young people to take up an expensive and unhealthy habit. But I would have preferred the path of more good information, treating people as rational, rather than as dummies.

However, there appears to be an irrational aspect to the reactions of smokers to the changes. Apparently some smokers believe that their cigarettes from plain packets taste worse than those from the old branded ones. Some people believe that it was just spin by the Health Minister.

Not Mr. Leopold. He started the Olive green smoke packets…different taste ? thread on the [rc=remote control]:

Any of the smokers out there see a different taste in their smokes from the original packs to the new *** green packs ?? The green packs don't taste the same and taste like ass

It's not mental thinking as I even dumped new smokes in an old pack I had that was still half full and mixed em up and they are noticeabley different ?

Adam Ferrier, a communications and marketing guru from advertising agency Naked Communications tries to explain this unlikely phenomenon on Unleashed:

When we taste something we are not recording what it tastes like, we are creating the taste – making it up, depending on the information we have to hand.

… When tasting a cigarette, all advertising contributes to the taste of that cigarette.

Anyway, he’s a supporter of the legislation:

Every government initiative – from banning advertising, to limiting distribution, to raising taxes, to plain packaging – is having an impact.

If this is the hallmark of a nanny state, then as the son of a smoker who died of cancer way too young I happily say “Goo goo ga ga. Keep looking after us.”

Other countries such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand have been considering the introduction of similar anti-smoking packaging laws. The Huff received over 400 comments when it asked for U.S. feedback on the idea.

LorentDiscard's response is very positive:

This is a great development. Already there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that even hardened, addicted, smokers seem to enjoy their brands less.
I don't believe in prohibition, but strongly believe in our collective responsibility to protect our children, and there we'll see the major impact.

Hgcohan has a more libertarian view:

Nannie State, intrusive government. Freedom means ‘free to be’. How in the world has government found a path into ruling on packaging for cigarettes? This is gross evidence of government over-stepping boundaries.

The tobacco industry has argued that plain packaging will increase illegal trade and smuggling. This is reflected in the current U.K. discussion.

It will be interesting to see if another country will follow Australia’s lead in the near future.


  • Will be very interesting to track the progress and outcome of #plainpackaging. Mr. Leopold’s “Olive green smoke packets…different taste ?” is very telling of the powers of advertisement and the role it plays in every day life. I wonder if this plain packaging movement will become widespread. I’m sure if plain cigarette packaging was introduced in the U.S., there would be an outcry from libertarians all over the nation. As referenced in the article, I too am surprised at how this legislature passed. Although I agree that plain packaging has the potential to defer smokers I am shocked that the law passed. Sounds like politics are working a lot better in AUS than the U.S.! (Although that’s not saying much). Can’t wait to see how this plays out.

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