One of the local obsessions is that Australia does (bad) policy to provide leadership to the rest of the world. So we have a carbon tax and plain packaging and the like. I always find this particular argument to be quite weak. So how is our latest stunt of providing world leadership going?
As the first dispatches from Australia indicate that plain packaging has had no initial impact since its introduction there, momentum towards its introduction in further markets appears to have stalled – even in countries such as New Zealand and the UK which up until recently had seemed near certainties to follow the Australian government down a standardised path. While the lack of significant market changes in Australia is no more than was predicted by Euromonitor and for other governments there was always going to be an element of wait and see, the tobacco industry appears to have regrouped in its rearguard action against plain packaging and shifting political realities are also contributing to the lengthening of odds and timescales.
However, certain countries remain as far from even the hint of plain packaging as ever. The major tobacco markets of China, Russia and Indonesia have all recently passed comprehensive tobacco control legislation without even so much as a passing mention of the concept. In the US, the federal regulatory authority the FDA has become embroiled in a legal wrangle regarding the imposition of a 50% graphic health warning which has found its way to the Supreme Court and which suggests that standardised packaging in the world’s 3rd largest tobacco market is a non-runner for the foreseeable future. Indeed, there was an intriguing vignette last week as the Irish Independent newspaper reported US trade groups’ less than gentle warning to Enda Kenny, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of anti-tobacco regulation pioneer Ireland that the introduction of standardised cigarette packaging there would be seen as an ‘assault’ on the rights of tobacco companies which would send a ‘troubling message’ to Ireland’s trade partners. Further evidence, if it were needed, that the plain packaging debate has gone global and has a tortuous, rough and tumble road yet to run.
That report from Euromonitor International.
Is is all quite interesting; just two weeks ago I was being told that Nicola Roxon had built up huge credit on the left with the plain packaging legislation passing the parliament and the subsequent High Court victory – yet she was dumped from cabinet in the middle of night under circumstances yet to become public. I don’t know what has changed – but the international leadership argument doesn’t seem to have worked.