Plain packaging laws could be applied to booze, junk food

Plain packaging and graphic images of the dangers of smoking appear to be working on reducing the numbers of people who smoke. So could this strategy be applied to other unhealthy behaviours?

A lawyer on the side of big tobacco says Australian authorities could look to extending the program to alcohol, soft drinks and junk food, and that tobacco is the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to regulation and litigation.

Benjamin Rubinstein, a senior partner from law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, told Fairfax, “There have been rumbling among the public health community about what’s next: is it just tobacco? What about sugary foods? Fatty foods? What about alcohol?”

He explains that once rules like the plain packaging law, which was passed in Australian in 2011, are applied, tested and shown to be working, the laws “jump the border like a virus”.

“Tobacco litigation came here; it’s gone to other jurisdictions and it’s still playing out in a very big way in Canada,” said Mr Rubenstein.

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Ireland introduced similar restrictions in April.

But where to from here?

In New Zealand, Otago University professor of marketing Janet Hoek said tobacco use there had halved since the introduction of policies to restrict the way cigarettes were marketed. She called on the NZ Government to do the same for junk food, telling the New Zealand Herald, “It makes sense to examine the potential these policies could have in reducing consumption of foods associated with obesity.”

Rob Moodie, professor of global health at University of Melbourne says the the food and drinks industry is using the same tactics as the tobacco and alcohol industry, and that self-regulation (by the industry or individuals) will never be enough to impact public health.

“There’s no way they’re going to move unless there’s regulation in my view. Things won’t change until we get substantial changes to foods that have lower levels of salt, sugar and fat. That probably won’t happen until there’s regulation or the serious threat of regulation,“ Professor Moodie said.

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In theory, this could mean chips in plain foil bags and sharing your dinner table with a picture of a cirrhotic liver.

Do you think this will make a difference? Would restrictions on marketing stop you from eating too much unhealthy food, or drinking too much?