Plain package row: tobacco company resorts to 'sick joke'

Big tobacco's last-ditch attempts to save their brands through catchy tag lines and appealing names such as "crush blue" and "crush sky" are very unlikely to work in the face of the government's plain packaging laws, marketing experts say.

Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek today condemned Imperial Tobacco's partial plain packaging, an interim measure before laws take full effect by December 1, and its motto "It's what's on the inside that counts".

The tagline was in material sent out to retailers about Imperial's plain packaging measures for its Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes.

"For a company to have produced packs that contain the line, 'It's what's on the inside that counts' must surely be the ultimate sick joke from big tobacco," Ms Plibersek said.

"Diseased lungs, hearts and arteries are the reality of what is happening on the inside to a smoker.

"Smoking related diseases kill 15,000 Australians a year and the government is determined to reduce the pain and suffering caused by this deadly product."

British American Tobacco Australia is also changing the descriptors of some cigarettes to names such as "crush blue", "crush sky", "sea green menthol" and "smooth amber" from October 1, according to material sent to retailers.

Phil McDonald, group managing director at advertising firm Young & Rubicam Group, said big tobacco companies were trying anything to make their brands stand out against mandatory olive-brown plain packs.

"They would presume that they have nothing to lose, so they're just trying to get any incremental benefit they can," Mr McDonald said.

"I think they understand how damaging the legislation is to their brand because their brand will cease to exist, so it's their last ditch attempt to keep it alive.

"It's an attempt to create brand imagery.

"What's happening here is that brands are being disassembled and things like descriptors that have imagery ... are trying to bring that brand world back.

He said it was unlikely the companies were worried about appearing to push the legislation to its limits.

"I think they're in trouble as it is.

"I think the game is on and I don't think the government is going to relent until they take the brands away.

"These things are all tactics the tobacco companies are employing to get around the regulations, but my sense is that the government is going to win."

Other marketing experts said the tactic of using appealing names for cigarettes was a risky move.

A statement from Imperial Tobacco said the interim packets advised "adult smokers" of Peter Stuyvesants that the brand will soon change colour.

From October 1, all tobacco products manufactured or packaged for domestic consumption in Australia are required to be in plain packaging and from December 1 all cigarettes for retail sale in Australia must be in plain packaging.

The first plain packaged products are expected to be with major retailers this week.

"However, we will be closely watching the new packages to ensure that they comply with the regulations because we know that big tobacco will use every trick in the book to try and get around the new requirements," she said.

Ms Plibersek said the government would continue to monitor the new packs as they appeared on the market.

"We have referred the packs to the ACCC to ensure that the graphic health warnings comply with the standard and we will continue to do so as issues are identified," she said.

"Where we identify any examples of possible non-compliance before the implementation dates we will be letting the companies know so they can rectify any issues."


The story Plain package row: tobacco company resorts to 'sick joke' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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