Minutes - TRIPS Council - View details of the intervention/statement

Ambassador Federico A. González (Paraguay)
177. The representative of Australia said that her delegation welcomed the opportunity to discuss this extremely important public health issue in the TRIPS Council and to explain the health policy underpinnings of the Australian Government's proposal. In order to provide some context for Members, she said it was worth noting that some 3 million Australians continued to smoke daily, that smoking killed over 15,000 Australians per year and that the cost to Australia's society and economy was over $31.5 billion per annum. This was the policy context in which the Australian Government approached this issue. 178. She said that, on 7 April 2011, the Australian Minister for Health and Ageing had released for public comment the Consultation Paper and draft legislation to mandate the plain packaging of tobacco products. The consultation period had closed on 6 June 2011. The comments lodged were currently being considered by the Australian Government. She said that Australia had been a global leader in tobacco control over the past 30 years and had implemented a comprehensive range of measures to reduce smoking rates. These included extensive and continuing public education campaigns on the dangers of smoking; age restrictions on tobacco purchase; comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; bans on smoking in workplaces and enclosed public places; bans on smoking in cars with children and increasingly in open air public places where children may be exposed to second hand smoke; bans and restrictions on the retail display of tobacco products; pricing measures through excise and customs duties; and mandatory graphic health warnings on tobacco product packaging. 179. She said that tobacco packaging was one of the last remaining forms of tobacco advertising in Australia and the plain packaging legislation was the next logical step in Australia's tobacco control efforts. Guidelines agreed by the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2008 for the implementation of Articles 11 and 13 of the FCTC recommended that Parties consider the introduction of plain packaging. The legislation proposed by Australia was expected to commence on 1 January 2012, and would require all tobacco products offered for retail sale on or after 1 July 2012 to be compliant. The proposed legislation was part of a comprehensive package of new reforms to combat smoking announced by the Australian Government in April 2010. Other elements of the package were a 25 per cent increase in tobacco excise - Australia's tobacco excise and excise-equivalent duty was already high by international standards and now amounted to A$8.40 on a packet of 25 cigarettes, and A$10.09 on a packet of 30; increased investment in anti-smoking social marketing campaigns; and legislation to bring restrictions on tobacco advertising on the Internet into line with restrictions in other media and at retail points of sale. 180. She said that these measures had been recommended by Australia's leading public health experts on the National Preventative Health Taskforce, and accepted by the Australian Government. The Taskforce had considered that plain packaging would improve public health by reducing the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products to consumers; reducing the ability of tobacco packaging to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking; increasing the noticeability and effectiveness of mandated health warnings. 181. She said that her delegation had noted the comments from the Dominican Republic referring to an alleged lack of scientific evidence to indicate that a plain packaging requirement would work. She observed, however, that there was a body of peer-reviewed literature on the public record indicating that a plain packaging requirement would contribute to Australia's objectives. All of that literature was available on the preventative health website, the details of which she would be happy to furnish to Members. Australia did not consider that the plain packaging proposal would have a significant impact on the illicit trade in tobacco products since already branded products were quickly and readily counterfeited. Nevertheless, she said that anti-counterfeiting markings would be allowed to be used on the packaging provided those markings were not linked to tobacco marketing or promotions and did not interfere with graphic health warnings. She said that the Australian Government considered that the smoking of any tobacco products, whether licit or illicit, was fundamentally harmful to human health. 182. She said that Australia was, and would continue to be, fully committed to its international obligations to protect intellectual property rights, including the rights of trademark owners. She assured all Members that, in framing its policy on plain packaging, Australia had paid full regard to the TRIPS Agreement and would ensure that the new policy was implemented in a manner that was consistent with that Agreement.