HEALTH campaigners say most Australians support plain packaging for cigarettes, despite efforts by the powerful cigarettes industry to mobilise public and political opposition against the Gillard government plan.
With public consultation on the landmark bill due to close next week, a Newspoll survey has revealed 59 per cent of respondents support the proposal, while 24 per cent remain opposed.
With 17 per cent of respondents undecided, Cancer Council Victoria will launch a national campaign today in a bid to discredit claims by cigarette manufacturers that plain packaging will lead to a surge in counterfeit tobacco. British America Tobacco will return fire in a fresh round of advertisements with the tagline ''when everything's the same, how do you spot the fake?''
The row erupted as the International Chamber of Commerce slammed the plain packaging push. Secretary-general Jean-Guy Carrier has written to Trade Minister Craig Emerson arguing that the plan will set a dangerous precedent and could clash with international laws protecting trademarks and intellectual property. An ICC statement said restricting product branding meant customers were not able to make informed choices. ''Plain packaging makes it easier for… counterfeiters, exposing consumers to products with unknown and potentially dangerous ingredients.''
Cancer Council chief executive Todd Harper accused the tobacco industry of deliberately misleading the public. ''These are the same people that told us that nicotine was not addictive. This is such an important issue for the future of their industry that we can expect more hysterical and unfounded claims.'' The proposed legislation would still allow for the brand name to appear in small print on cigarette packs.
British American Tobacco spokeswoman Louise Warburton claimed public support for plain packaging had slumped by 13 per cent since April. ''We don't think the public would support millions of dollars being spent on legal fees by the government and possibly billions of dollars being spent on compensation to the tobacco industry if plain packaging goes ahead,'' she said. Anne Jones, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said the global tobacco industry was aggressively fighting Australia's proposed plain packaging laws because the legislation would have a domino effect.
Ms Jones said a global tobacco treaty signed in 2005 required signatories to do all they could to reduce tobacco harm. ''When Australia gets plain packaging you've got 170 other countries out there watching and wanting to catch up or go ahead of what we're doing. The industry's very fearful of that because they're a global industry,'' she said.
US Congressman Donald Manzullo has warned Mr Emerson plain packaging could breach international trade laws.
Quit's Fiona Sharkie urged federal MPs to ignore attempts by international lobbyists to derail the reforms.