Tobacco industry fights Australian cigarette bans

The tobacco industry will launch a multimillion dollar blitz against the government's plan to ban cigarette pack logos and branding.

Australia's tobacco industry is to launch a multimillion dollar blitz against the ruling Labor party's plain cigarette pack policy as the election race entered its final weeks, reports said today. The A$5m (Dh16.7m) advertising campaign by the Alliance of Australian Retailers (AAR) was set to claim that Labor's world-first plan to ban logos and branding on cigarette packets put small businesses and jobs at risk.

"There's no credible evidence that this policy will stop people smoking, that it will stop kids, young people, taking up cigarette smoking," the AAR spokeswoman Sheryle Moon told public broadcaster ABC. "It will just make it more difficult for retailers to do their business." Mrs Moon said global tobacco giants including Philip Morris and British American Tobacco were providing "financial support" to the campaign, with News Limited reports estimating their contribution at A$2.5m.

Anti-smoking group Quit slammed the retailers for "doing favours for the tobacco industry," and said they should be focusing on how best to adjust to an "inevitable change". "This is all about the tobacco companies running scared about the long-term implications plain packaging will have for their global profits, and trying to scare other countries into not taking this important life-saving policy reform," said the Quit chief Fiona Sharkie.

The campaign, to be launched this weekend, will be an unwelcome development for the centre-left Labor party, which is already facing attack ads from the mining lobby over its proposed 30 percent tax on coal and iron ore profits as it heads to August 21 polls. Labor demanded that prime ministerial candidate Tony Abbott explain whether his parties were involved in or supported the campaign, with the tobacco industry a regular donor to his conservative opposition coalition.

Mr Abbott said that if elected, he would also "consider" implementing the plain packaging policy and flatly denied that the Liberal/National coalition was associated with the AAR campaign. "The coalition has absolutely nothing to do with it," Mr Abbott said. Labor this year hiked taxes on cigarettes by 25 per cent, adding roughly $2 to the price of a pack of 30, with the proceeds funnelled to healthcare.

Tobacco advertising is outlawed in Australia, and smoking is banned in most enclosed public spaces such as offices and restaurants. * AFP