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Australia proposes plain packs for cigarettes

The Marlboro man could soon be banned from the Outback.
Australia could become the first nation to ban brand images and colors on cigarette packages under a wide-ranging set of anti-smoking measures the government announced Thursday.

Starting July 1, 2012, tobacco products would have to be sold in the plainest of packaging — with few or no logos, brand images or colors. Promotional text would be restricted to brand and product names in a standard color, position, type style and size.

Restrictions on Internet advertising, a hefty increase in the tax on tobacco products and new anti-smoking campaigns are also among the initiatives.

The government said the moves would cut tobacco consumption and generate billions of dollars of revenue that would be plowed into the health system. The action won praise from the World Health Organization, which welcomed the measures as “a new gold standard for the regulation of tobacco products.”

Leading tobacco companies strongly criticized the measures, questioning their effectiveness and saying they would encourage counterfeiting.

“Plain packaging has not been introduced in any country in the world, and there is no evidence to support the government’s notion that this will reduce consumption,” Imperial Tobacco said in a statement from its Sydney office. “Plain packaging would seriously harm our brands and infringe the intellectual property rights in which both Imperial Tobacco and its shareholders have invested.”

Philip Morris International declined to say whether it would take legal action against the measure but argued that the imposition of plain packaging would represent “an unconstitutional expropriation of valuable intellectual property, violating a variety of Australia’s international trade obligations.”

British American Tobacco’s Australia unit echoed this, saying it believed that the plain packaging proposals “would not hold up to close scrutiny.”

But in a TV broadcast, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, “We, the government, will not be intimidated by any big tobacco company.” Cigarette boxes would continue to carry graphic health warnings, including photographs of the effects of smoking-related diseases.

The measures announced on Thursday also include a 25 percent increase in the excise tax on tobacco products, which was to come into force as of midnight. That will increase the cost of a packet of 30 cigarettes by about 2.16 Australian dollars, to about 16.70 Australian dollars ($15.40).

The additional tax revenue, estimated to total 5 billion Australian dollars over four years, would be invested in the nation’s health system, the government said.

BY BETTINA WASSENER AND MERAIAH FOLEY, NEW YORK TIMES

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