The Australian parliament has passed two bills that would ban cigarette branding, making all packages a uniform olive green with the brand name in small, standard type.
Australia has moved a step closer to becoming the first country in the world to introduce plain cigarette packaging in a plan that has enraged tobacco giants.
This week, the parliament’s lower house passed two bills aimed at banning tobacco company product branding.
The legislation, which dictates that cigarette packets must be a uniform olive green with the name of the brand in small, standard type, is expected to pass the upper house in the coming weeks.
Under the new law, aimed at reducing smoking rates to below 10 per cent, packets will be plastered in graphic health warnings and will not be allowed to bear any tobacco company logos.
“This is the first very courageous step that our parliament has taken to introduce plain packaging,” said Nicola Roxon, the health minister.
“We’re going to be the first country around the world to introduce it. January 1 is the start date and it looks like the legislation will be well and truly passed by then.”
Tobacco companies, furious at the move, claim there is no evidence that plain packaging will reduce smoking rates and argue that it could spark a rise in illegal tobacco, known as chopchop.
British American Tobacco Australia is now weighing up whether to seek an urgent hearing the the High Court in a last-ditch bid to release confidential government legal advice on plain packaging that it hopes might influence the upper house vote.
But Steve Hambleton, the Australian Medical Association president, has urged senators to get support the bill when it reaches the upper house.
“This legislation will save lives,” he said “And we have to send a message to Big Tobacco that people’s lives are more important than their profits.”
Some 15,000 Australians die of smoking-related diseases every year. The government estimates that tobacco use costs the country Aus$31.5 billion (£19billion) annually in healthcare and lost productivity.
Though Australia would be the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging, New Zealand, Canada and Britain have considered a similar approach.