Australia's government has revealed the world's toughest anti-tobacco bill, preventing companies from displaying their distinctive colours, brand designs and logos on cigarette packs in a bid to make smoking less attractive to the young.
Tobacco giants, which say the move illegally diminishes the value of their trademarks, are funding a nationwide advertising campaign that brands Australia a nanny state and warns that alcohol will become the government's next target.
Australia is a relatively small tobacco market where the falling rate of smokers is 17%, compared with around 20% of American adults. But tobacco companies fear a precedent that could be adopted by more lucrative and growing markets.
Health minister Nicola Roxon said while tobacco companies were fighting to protect their profits, her government was fighting to protect lives.
"This is a world-first initiative designed to remove the last vestige of glamour from tobacco products," she told parliament. "Once enacted, these plain packaging laws will be the world's toughest laws on tobacco promotion."
The bill requires all cigarettes to be sold in the same drab, olive green packs with brand names dwarfed by health warnings from May 20 next year. The health warnings and often gruesome, full-colour images of the consequences of smoking, such as mouth cancer and gangrenous toes, will increase in size to cover 75% of the packs' front. Graphic health warnings currently cover only 30%.
Penalties that would apply from July 1 2012 to retailers who break the rules include fines of up to £733,700 for a company and £146,700 for an individual. Tobacco advertising is already banned in Australia at the point of sale.
The legislation appears certain to become law, with the main opposition party indicating support. No time-frame has been announced for when parliament will vote on the bill.
Hong Kong-based Philip Morris Asia, which owns the Australian affiliate Philip Morris Limited, filed a notice of claim against the government in an Australian court in June arguing the legislation breaks a bilateral investment treaty between Australia and Hong Kong.
International Chamber of Commerce secretary general Jean-Guy Carrier has also written to the Australian government outlining his concerns that the law would strip tobacco packaging of all trademarks. But trade minister Craig Emerson said Mr Carrier's argument was wrong because product names would still be permitted on cigarette packs, albeit in a standard colour, position, font size and style.