Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers

“colourful packaging does indeed promote smoking.” The Strange case of the Alliance of Australian Retailers PTY LTD.

In Responses to the media, Uncategorized on September 23, 2010 at 5:53 PM

The Australian Government announced on April 29 2010 that as of the first of July 2012 tobacco companies would only be able to sell cigarettes within Australia in plain packages.

This announcement was made in conjunction with that of a 25 per cent tax increase on tobacco products which the government has projected will cut tobacco consumption by six per cent and the number of smokers by 2 or 3 per cent. The government also advised that internet advertising of cigarettes will also be restricted and an extra $27.8 million will be spent on anti-smoking campaigns. While the three big tobacco company’s within Australia each threatened legal action, none has been forthcoming.

In response the Alliance of ‘The Alliance of Australian Retailers Pty Ltd was formed
with funding supplied by British American Tobacco Australia Limited, Philip Morris
Limited and Imperial Tobacco Australia Limited. With catch cries of “if it won’t work,
why do it?”and “good policy requires more than good intentions”, the Alliance was lead by Director Sheryle Moon, who is also Executive Director of the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores.

The Who Are WE section of the website advises that this Alliance consists of

“owners of Australian corner stores, milk bars, newsagents and service stations” who are “fed up with excessive regulation that is making it harder for us to run our businesses.”

The final straw, as it goes on to say is a recent federal government proposal to mandate plain packaging for cigarettes. This is the explanation given for the formation of the ‘The Alliance of Australian Retailers Pty Ltd’ which is comprised of The Service Station Association, Australian Newsagents’ Federation and the National Independent Retailers Association.

The campaign took the form of billboards on major roads Australia wide, brochures and leaflets at the stores represented by the Alliance, and mass media coverage with Sheryle Moon herself taking on the role of spokesperson for the campaign. A key element of the campaign was timing, launching within days of a federal election being announced and with the opposition holding no commitment to implement the policies that threatened the tobacco industry.

The main focus point of the campaign was the notion that plain packaging of cigarettes will lead to a reduction in people smoking is unproven, but side issues outlined in an Open Letter from the group include claims that increased taxation has lead an increase in theft and that the black market is being fuelled by such policies.

“Good policy requires more than good intentions”,

was clearly an attempt to add one of many slogans being to be  bandied about during what was overwhelmingly considered a lackluster election campaign

Quite early in the campaign, then Director Sheryle Moon spoke to Peter Lloyd on ABC
television’s Lateline program. Director Moon was asked how much the tobacco industry were paying for the campaign but evaded the question. Director Moon did admit, however, over the course of the story that her son was a smoker and she wished he would quit.

“I am encouraging him to look at campaigns such as Quit in order to stop smoking because stopping smoking in the community is a good thing.”

The pair was joined by Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health at Sydney University, who in the course of the interview pointed out,

“Well, if the retailers who are at the coal face of selling tobacco products are saying that
it’s going to affect employment, that can only mean that it’s gonna be a remarkably effective policy. So that’s of course exactly why the Government is right in doing it, and why every Australian who wants to reduce smoking-caused deaths, the leading cause of death in this country, and the uptake of smoking by kids, ought to get behind this and really repudiate what this industry is trying to do.”

Meanwhile the media were investigating supposed links with the campaign and The Liberal Party, due to well establish associations between the party and the tobacco industry. Liberal Party leader Tony Abbot was quick to dismiss these claims and stated he would “certainly consider” implementing plain packaging.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon spoke out against the campaign by calling it

“an unprecedented intervention by big tobacco into an election..”.

At this time it was also revealed in The Australian that Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) records show the Alliance of Australian Retailers as having just one shareholder and director, Sheryle Moon.

Anti-smoking groups Quit and Action on Smoking and Health(ASH) each criticised
both the tobacco companies for what they referred to as

“purely about an industry terrified of declining profits and one that will do anything to save its bottom line,” and “The world’s biggest drug pushers… using the election campaign to attack the government and reverse an important health policy”

respectively. Each launched counter campaigns aiming at both the general public and the retailers said to be supporting the Alliance.

Within a week the Australian Association of Convenience Stores was being forced by supermarket chain Coles and all its subsidiaries, to withdraw from the Alliance of Australian Retailers. This resulted in Sheryle Moon swiftly moving from being the spokesman and director of the Alliance of Australian Retailers to maintaining her position as head on the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, leaving the Alliance without a spokesperson.

Just when it seemed that matters could not get worse for the campaign, a report in online
news resource Crikey dated August 30, describes the possibility the Alliance of Australian Retailers website had been hacked and now conceded that ”colourful packaging does indeed promote smoking.”

Jayson D Cooke

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