Post B: ‘The Plain Packaging Act 2011’ as a movement for social change in Australian public health.

The problem of tobacco is one of the largest causes of death and disease Australia wide, killing 19,000 citizens per year (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2019). It has been a goal of the Federal and State governments, to abolish this issue and to ensure that consumers are well informed of the extreme health concerns associated with tobacco; since the 1970s. 

Smoking is not only known to cause cancer, but also, heart disease, strokes, renal and eye diseases and many respiratory conditions which can decrease the quality and quantity of life, for an individual significantly. There have been a range of campaigns implemented since 1973 to reduce the rates of smoking. These have led to policies such as taxation on tobacco products, banning of advertising and laws against smoking in certain areas, such as restaurants.  

Tobacco culture in Australia has thus been impacted forever, as children are even taught about its negative impacts in school. The Australian government has taken all necessary measures to ensure that people are educated and not blind to the extreme consequences of the choice to smoke. Despite a broad range of regulatory measures which were in place to reduce tobacco use, the number of Australian smokers was still unacceptably high (The Department of Health, 2016).

Perhaps the most successful non-profit social change campaign, has been the ‘plain packaging’ initiative which has led to policy change in advertising and the design of cigarette packaging. The ‘Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011’ led to the removal of all branding, slogans and attractive designs and embellishments on tobacco packaging within Australia (Bayly M, Scollo M, 2017). It was the worlds first legislation to standardise tobacco packaging and was brought about as a response to the dangerous marketing of the tobacco industry which was highly successful through prestigious looking packaging with foiling and embossing, which was intended to provoke ideas that one brand was more superior to another.  The packaging was the key promotional vehicle which provided the misleading advertisement of a product which was known to cause death. 

 As of 2012, all tobacco packaging would include clear and direct warnings which would increase in size from 30% of the box to 75% on the front, as well as 90% of the back of the box. These warnings included bold text, and disturbing images showing the long term effects of smoking. Using shock tactics to generate specific psychological responses was successful, as this appealed to consumer emotions by provoking thoughts about the individuals own future if they were to continue smoking. The name of the company was now only allowed to be displayed in a small generic font and positioning, so that no brand could be showcased as more superior and luxurious. 

Before and After the Plain Packaging Act was implemented, (Hammond, 2017). 

Although this initiative and policy was carried out through packaging changes, it was also supported by non-profit government authorised TV advertisements which brought the images on the packaging to life. These mass media campaigns showed cancer sufferers and amputees, displaying their shocking quality of life, due to their body’s inability to function as it should. They aimed to change social behaviour and affect decision making when it came to choosing whether or not to smoke.  

Guidelines for The Plain Packaging Act 2011, (World Health Organisation, 2012).

The policy was successful in reducing the glamour and appeal of tobacco products, increasing knowledge of the effects of smoking, and promoting the Quitline. Within one year of the plain packaging initiative, 85% of smokers reported that they disliked the look of the packaging and it was not appealing to them. Attitudes changed in the 18-29 year old age bracket as 30% were convinced that the brands did not differ in quality. The number of Quitline calls in the first month increased by 78%, which led to countless smokers giving up their addiction due to the shocking warnings which they were forced to witness each time they reached for a cigarette (Medical Journal of Australia, 2014)

Overall, the campaign and policy brought about significant social/behavioural change due to a higher level of awareness into the long term impacts of tobacco use. The challenges associated with such a campaign, would be the commitment required to maintain the research process and monitoring of results. As well as the sustained effort required to create innovative solutions so that comprehensive approaches would be effective (Commonwealth of Australia, 2012). This policy is one which governments could easily implement worldwide, in particular, in Central Java, Indonesia, who would benefit from this policy in an attempt to provoke social and behavioural change though education of tobacco addiction rather than promoting the use of tobacco, allowing the industry to manipulate their people. 

References:

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2019, Smoking, viewed 18 November 2019, <https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.001~2017-18~Main%20Features~Smoking~85>. 

 Bayly M, Scollo M 2017, 10.9 Brand portfolio strategies in the Australian market, viewed 18 November 2019, <https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-10-tobacco-industry/10-9-brand-portfolio-strategies-in-the-australia-market->. 

Commonwealth of Australia 2012, National Tobacco strategy 2012-2018, Edition 1, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Scollo M, Bayly M, Wakefield M, 2015, Plain packaging: a logical progression for tobacco control in one of the world’s ‘darkest markets’, Tobacco Control 2015, BMJ Journals, viewed 18 November 2019, <https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/24/Suppl_2/ii3>. 

The Department of Health 2016, Post-Implementation Review Tobacco Plain Packaging 2016, Australian Government, Canberra. 

Young, J. M, Stacey, I , Dobbins, T. A, Dunlop, S, Dessaix, A. L. and Currow, D. C. 2014, Association between tobacco plain packaging and Quitline calls: a population‐based, interrupted time‐series analysis, Medical Journal of Australia, Volume 200, Australasian Medical Publishing Company, Australia.

Images:

David Hammond PhD, 2017, Nothing plain about plain packaging, viewed 18 November 2019, <https://www.lungcancernews.org/2017/02/01/nothing-plain-about-plain-packaging/>. 

World Health Organisation, 2012, Get ready for plain packaging, viewed 18 November 2019, <https://croakey.org/world-no-tobacco-day-2016-building-on-our-success/>. 

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