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CAP: Plain packaging for cigarettes a success in Australia

May 30, 2016

In Australia, the smoking rate dropped to 12.8% from 15.1% for those aged 14 years and above from 2010 and 2013 after plain packaging was introduced.



By S M Mohamed Idris

Since Malaysia implemented pictorial health warnings (PHW) on cigarette packs from June 2009, the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), Malaysia, reported that 92.8% of current smokers had noticed the health warnings on the packs. It shows that PHW were effective as also found in other countries that implemented it.

The PHW was implemented in line with Article 11 of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Malaysia became a party of the FCTC after it signed the treaty on September 23, 2003, ratifying it on September 16, 2005. The FCTC serves as a guideline and catalyst for Malaysia to implement tobacco control measures.

Currently cigarette packs in Malaysia carry PHW occupying 50% of the front panel of the pack and 60% of the back panel. However, the tobacco industry is still able to use attractive designs and fonts to fill the remaining space found on the pack in an attempt to ‘dilute’ the effects of the PHW as well as using it for promotion.

Australia is the first country to take FCTC Article 11 a step further by implementing plain packaging effective from December 2012. By this, it means that cigarette manufacturers can only print the brand name and flavour in a mandated size, font and place on the pack besides the PHW and other legally mandated information e.g. toxic constituents and tax-paid stamps. The appearance of all the packs is standardised and this includes the colour.

The result of Australia introducing the plain packaging was that between 2010 and 2013, the smoking rate dropped to 12.8% from 15.1% for those aged 14 years and above. It shows that the plain packaging law enforced in December 2012 as well as the 25% tax increase in 2010 helped reduce the smoking rate in Australia.

This month, May 2016, France, the United Kingdom, and Ireland introduced plain packs, coinciding with this year’s theme for World No Tobacco Day: “Get ready for plain packaging”. Meanwhile among Asean countries, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore are working towards adopting the plain packaging. If they successfully do, then it will be an achievement in bringing FCTC Article 11 to a new level.

Tobacco companies have been using cigarette packs to glamorise their products and seduce consumers into a dangerous and addictive habit. It has been estimated that one in two long-term smokers will die from smoking-related diseases and ironically smoking is the single largest preventable cause of disease and death. It must be emphasised that smoking harms almost every organ in the body, causes many diseases, and reduces the health of smokers in general.

Smoking-related diseases kill about 10,000 (or 1 in 4) Malaysians annually. This is equivalent to having 250 buses, each carrying 40 passengers, crashing and killing all on board every year in Malaysia.

If a person smokes a RM17 pack daily, he would need to spend RM510 over 30 days. It would be 34% of his salary if he earns RM1,500. The 34% expenditure on smoking has a drastic impact on the family budget, depriving his family of what could have been spent on healthy food and other necessities.

Indulging in a wasteful habit of smoking a hazardous product also has more serious implications. It was estimated in 2005 that RM2.92 billion has been spent by the government to treat just three of the major smoking-related diseases. For his employers, there is man-hour losses affecting work productivity when one develops smoking-related diseases besides the company having to pay for medical treatment, and hospitalisation if necessary. His family will be saddled with medical bills and there is a loss of income when the person dies.

Moreover, his family members may also contract smoking-related diseases from inhaling secondhand smoke or from poisons from cigarette smoke deposited on the walls of his home.

Hence, CAP says that the way forward in tobacco control in Malaysia is to implement plain packaging as a way to render tobacco products packaging unglamorous, particularly to women and youths. It is obvious that the tobacco industry targets youth in their need to replace dead smokers.

S M Mohamed Idris is President Consumers Association of Penang (CAP).

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