Australia and New Zealand have both moved towards plain cigarette packaging and the move is likely to impact on other countries in the Pacific.
Professor Simon Chapman from the University of Sydney is a public health advocate and was heavily involved in leading the Australian world first of plain packaging for cigarette.
He's just returned from the Pacific where he says there is interest in plain packaging and says momentum will build in the Pacific.
Speaker:Professor Simon Chapman, University of Sydney
CHAPMAN: There was a meeting convened at the South Pacific Commission, a great deal of interest in this proposal, and basically to cut a long story short I think that we'll probably start seeing a bit of momentum, fairly rapid I hope, in some of the Pacific nations because everyone's looked at now what's happened in Australia. As you said in your intro, we've got it, and already the early signs are that it may be having some impact on smoking, just as we'd intended. So there's a great interest in sort of spreading this around the region I think.
COONEY: Ok I guess I remember from visiting a few different Pacific countries, now I haven't looked at cigarette packets for a good while myself, so I can tell you that a few years ago certainly if you visited Vanuatu or Solomon Islands or places like that, the cigarette packets, the some brands as you could get in Australia but they did not even have the level of warnings that you had in Australia at this stage. What is the situation at the moment when it comes to packaging?
CHAPMAN: Look you wouldn't say that the Pacific nations, with the exception of New Zealand and Australia, are anything like in the sort of frontline of world standards. Canada in 2001 was the first country to go graphic warnings with pictures as well as text, and now there are something like 63 nations around the world who have followed Canada. I'm not sure if there are any other Pacific nations; Fiji may have graphic warnings I'm not sure. But certainly the others are lagging well behind. I mean in Noumea I noticed that the warnings were some of the smallest that I'd seen for many, many a year.
COONEY: While you were over there, smoking in bars, clubs that sort of thing, was that still happening?
CHAPMAN: I was only there for a couple of days but I noticed restaurant smoking was banned, but I did notice very seemingly heavy prevalence of smoking, and I'm not sure whether that was among the local population or just the French population who were living there. But certainly it looked to be a good deal higher than it is in Australia, where we're now down to 15 per cent only smoking over here.
COONEY: We're going to look at that the packaging what you can offer for countries in a minute, but one of the things you do notice when you travel around the Pacific is a lot of cigarettes are sold as singles. They open a packet, put them in a jar and you come in, pay your whatever cents, buy your cigarette and then leave. Plain packaging is probably not going to have an effect. Is this a concern?
CHAPMAN: Yeah it is and for that very reason Australia outlawed the sale of single cigarettes many, many years ago, because the law says that when you sell cigarettes they have to be sold in a pack with a health warning. You cannot just sell them as single items like that. Now I know that some people say well this is very difficult to police, but in countries like Australia and New Zealand we don't have armies of smoking police walking around checking people aren't smoking in bars and restaurants and things. It tends to be a community policed thing. So if you have an education program in the community that basically gets the community on side with this, and I've never met a parent who wanted their kids to smoke for example, even if they smoked themselves. So you've got a community which is generally very supportive of tobacco control, and so even when you introduce measures, which some people would think maybe that's going a bit far, you'll find that there's generally widespread support for it. Plain packaging, we had immense support in Australia for it.
COONEY: Ok what can you bring as far as your own expertise and experience when trying to get this happening in some of these Pacific nations, which as you mentioned as well, when it comes to packaging they don't even have warnings that you might see in developed countries?
CHAPMAN: Well Australia of course having gone down the plain packaging route and been the first country in the world to do so, has the world's best expertise. We have really top international level legal expertise, because what happens is that the tobacco companies try to scare governments by saying oh if you do this we'll take you to court. We've been down that route in the Australian High Court, the tobacco company, it's lost six to one. And we really wiped the floor with them. So I don't think we'll be seeing too much more bravado like that about legal solutions. They've also said oh the World Trade Organisation will forbid this. Well we're very confident that the challenge to the Australian legislation by three puppet nations of the tobacco companies; Dominican Republic, Honduras and Ukraine, none of those countries have any trade of any significance for any commodity in Australia, including tobacco. They are the ones who have fronted to the World Trade Organisation to try and sort of derail this. Well people who work in that area in international legal trade believe that there is a snowball's chance in hell of that winning. So we have the legal expertise, we also have the research expertise, the plain packaging that we have in Australia is not actually plain, it's got great big colourful graphic warnings front and rear on it, and every aspect of the design of the packaging has been thoroughly market tested to maximise the … to sort of really diminish the pull the packaging might have for smokers. So we'll be able to share that expertise in Australia, and we'll also be able to give a lot of advice on what you can anticipate that the tobacco industry will try and do beyond its legal attacks. So we'll be able to share that expertise with people throughout the region.
COONEY: Given what you've seen, would you be able to put a timeline on it I suppose?
CHAPMAN: Look things can move very fast in the Pacific. We heard from one delegate at the meeting in Noumea talking about the Marshall Islands. That he went along to a seminar and a health minister was unable to attend the seminar, but the finance minister deputised and he came and opened the seminar, listened to the first introduction and then had to go. And the first introductory speech emphasised the importance of cigarette taxation as an implement of driving down demand, and lo and behold literally within a few days I understand maybe a couple of weeks at the most, tobacco tax rose in the Marshall Islands. So that sort of speed is what we can see in particularly poor nations, and we would hope that we can move towards a smoke-free Pacific. I mean this region of the world can really lead the world in this whole area. And I think I'm fairly confident that in 20 years time the world will look back on the era of before highly researched cigarette packaging, and think what on earth were we doing putting some deadly products in packaging that is designed to make maximum appeal for particularly young smokers.