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Ireland, Plain Packaging, and the Olive Revolution
InfoJustice (2014)
  • Matthew Rimmer, Australian National University College of Law
A world leader in public health, Australia introduced plain packaging of tobacco products. Julia Gillard – the Prime Minister of Australia at the time responsible for plain packaging – has observed: “Since 1 December 2012, cigarettes packets in Australia do not sparkle with gold or silver and do not have any other way to catch and please the eye. They’re a uniform drab colour, with most of the box taken up with the most graphic health warnings. Gruesome pictures of disease perhaps better described as real pictures of the ugly truth.”
The public policy measure was designed to implement Australia’s obligations under international health law, and to address the public health impacts of tobacco. In particular, the measure was intended to address misleading and deceptive advertising by the Mad Men of the tobacco industry, which targeted consumers, including vulnerable populations, like children.
After epic litigation, the Commonwealth Government of Australia successfully and decisively defended plain packaging of tobacco products in the High Court of Australia. The Australian Government is currently defending the regime against further challenges by Big Tobacco under investment agreements and trade agreements, emphasizing that it is defending its sovereign right to protect the public health of Australian citizens. It is heartening that a number of other countries have joined the ‘Olive Revolution’ in tobacco packaging. New Zealand has indicated that it will follow suit, and introduce plain packaging of tobacco products. Uruguay has been supportive of plain packaging – as has Norway. There has been much debate in Ireland, Scotland, and England about the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco products.
As a veteran of the debates over plain packaging of tobacco products, I have watched the debate in Ireland over this public health measure, with great interest.
Ireland’s Minister for Health Dr James Reilly and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan promote plain packaging of tobacco products Ireland’s Minister for Health Dr James Reilly and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan promote plain packaging of tobacco products Ireland’s Minister for Health, Dr. James Reilly, has been a resolute advocate of plain packaging of tobacco products:
We are also working to introduce standardised tobacco packaging. This means that all forms of branding – trademarks, logos, colours and graphics – would be removed from tobacco packs. The brand name would be presented in a uniform typeface for all brands and the packs would all be in one plain neutral colour.
Australia was the first country in the world to introduce standardised packaging, in December 2012. We are in on-going contact with our Australian colleagues. They were successful in defending their legislation in the Australian courts, but are facing challenges now in the World Trade Organisation arena. So it won’t be an easy process. But it will be worthwhile.
The international research available to us, including a recent study by the Irish Cancer Society, indicates that standardised packaging can reduce the appeal of tobacco products and increase the effectiveness of health warnings. It also reduces the ability of branded tobacco packaging to mislead people about the harmful effects of smoking.
Reilly is prepared for legal conflict with the tobacco industry: ‘I’ll be astonished if there isn’t a legal challenge.’ He observed that it would be an ‘extraordinary society’ which put the intellectual property rights of an industry over the health of its citizens. Reilly stressed that graphic health warnings and plain packaging were ‘an appropriate measure to protect public health’. He stressed: ‘I believe that we must do what’s right, not what’s easiest’.
  • Plain Packaging,
  • Graphic Health Warnings,
  • Tobacco Control,
  • Ireland,
  • the World Health Organization.
Publication Date
March 24, 2014
Citation Information
Matthew Rimmer. "Ireland, Plain Packaging, and the Olive Revolution" InfoJustice (2014)
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