If you’re in Australia in December and you feel like smoking a cigarette, you won’t find your favorite brands in their usual packages. Instead, you’ll be confronted by graphic cigarette warning labels with photos of rotted teeth, blinded eyeballs and hospitalized children.
That’s because the country’s highest court just got tough with tobacco companies, upholding a law on how cigarettes are promoted. When smokers buy a pack of cigarettes, instead of seeing familiar labels, they’ll be faced instead with those graphic images, along with urgent warnings about smoking’s hazards.
That’s right, the usual brand logos and designs will be missing from the packages, with the brand name visible only on a plain strip. The ruling is considered the most stringent law in the world on tobacco labeling and perhaps the strongest stand against big tobacco companies.
The Associated Press reported today that the Australian government has tried to persuade other countries to follow its lead in downplaying smoking’s glamorous cachet and highlighting its deleterious effects.
“Governments can take on big tobacco and win and it’s worth countries looking again at what the next appropriate step is for them,” Australia’s Attorney General Nicola Roxon was quoted telling reporters.
Other countries have added graphic cigarette warning labels in recent years, but none this bold. In Canada, half of each cigarette pack carries graphic labels, and in Brazil explicit photographs of diseased limbs and cancer patients adorn cigarette packages.
Not surprisingly, tobacco companies such as Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco aren’t happy about the ruling and argue that it will cut deeply into their profits. AP said that the companies challenged the decision on the basis that it cheapens their trademarks and infringes on their intellectual property rights.
In a news release, Philip Morris spokesperson Chris Argent said, “We will have to wait to read the court’s opinion to fully assess today’s decision. Regardless, the legality of plain packaging, including whether Australia will have to pay substantial compensation to Philip Morris Asia, remains at issue and will be considered in other ongoing legal challenges.”
Australia’s high court will release its opinion on the case later.
The news is being heralded by anti-smoking proponents as a watershed moment. “It’s now broken the wall,” Rob Moodie, professor of public health at the University of Melbourne, told Bloomberg News. “Governments with sufficient guts and resources can stare down the saber rattling of the tobacco companies.”
The U.S. may eventually get similar graphic cigarette warning labels, but that situation is tied up in the courts right now. In 2009 the Food and Drug Administration came up with several warning labels that were set to debut this year. But tobacco companies objected to the labels and a U.S. District judge ruled they were too large. An appeals court is currently deciding the case.
A study published in June in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that current smokers had better recall of graphic cigarette warnings labels than text-only warning labels, leading researchers to believe the vivid messages about smoking risks might be more effective in getting people to quit.
Do you think graphic cigarette warning labels like these will stop people from smoking or get them to quit? Let us know in the comments.