The tobacco industry in Australia is throwing money like never before. At least nine million dollars, according to some estimates, to lobby against the move to introduce plain cigarette packaging. Consumer groups are crying foul and want the campaign to be pulled.
The Kevin Rudd government in April announced plans for cigarettes to be sold in plain brown packaging from 2012, bearing only graphic health warnings and the brand in black typeface.
The tobacco industry is preparing to pour $3.97 million, on top of the $5.4 million already spent, into phase two of its campaign, to coincide with the AFL and NRL finals season this weekend.
The TV ads are supposedly issued by the Alliance of Australian Retailers, and the alliance claims to represent 19,000 corner stores, petrol stations and newsagents.
But new documents leaked to The Sydney Morning Herald show that the tobacco firm Philip Morris hired the public relations firm Civic Group to manage the campaign for the alliance.
The Victorian president of the Public Health Association of Australia, Helen Keleher, said the ads were deceitful and a ''backdoor way of advertising the product." It is illegal to advertise cigarettes on Australian TV, and Professor Keleher said the ban should be extended to all ads funded by the tobacco industry.
VicHealth chief executive Todd Harper called for urgent action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ''to shut down this dishonest campaign''.
He said the leaked information showed ''how far the tobacco industry was prepared to go to buy the outcome that it wanted'' and if the campaign succeeded, more people would die.
Jennifer Macey of the ABC News notes, "The international tobacco companies are of course terrified that this measure will domino all around the world, just as many things which have originated in Australia have.
"Graphic pack warnings; dozens of countries have got them. Bans on smoking in work places; Australia was one of the leaders there. Bans on small packs of cigarettes - less than 20 - started in Australia. Plain packaging is a measure which scares the tobacco industry to death."