By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called forth the opposition to explain “what understandings” there were between the Liberal Party and the tobacco industry after revelations of a $5 million industry-funded advertising campaign against the Labor Party with the help of Liberals. The tobacco giants are unhappy with Labor's plan to push for plain packaging for tobacco. The federal government earlier this year announced that it wanted cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging, without brand logos, images and colours, from 2012.
The Prime Minister called on Mr. Tony Abbott and his party saying, “Liberal party strategists and Mr Abbott have got some explaining to do…The Labor party doesn't take donations from tobacco companies, I think that's wrong…I think Mr Abbott needs to come clean about what participation the Liberal Party had in the tobacco campaign ... I think Australians are pretty worried that Mr Abbott's health policy is hostage to the influence of tobacco giants.”
Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan said the report was “horrific”, calling on Mr. Abbott to explain his party's involvement in the campaign.”There's a real question mark here about his trustworthiness and whether he's fit to be Prime Minister…Mr. Abbott has to explain what discussions they've had about packaging,” he said.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon also said, “I call on Tony Abbott to make clear to his friends in big tobacco that they should stop this campaign, and to make clear to the public whether he will support our plain packaging laws.”
There has been a protest against the plain packaging of tobacco products from a group called Alliance of Australian Retailers (AAR) registered last week with the Australian Securities Commission. This campaign devised by former Howard government advisers and current Liberal Party strategists is being almost entirely financed by the tobacco industry. The plans are that from this weekend full-page newspaper and television ads will accuse Labor of adding to people's costs of living and attack their proposed laws on plain packaging for tobacco products. The newly-formed AAR has 19,000 members representing corner stores, petrol stations, and newsagents.
Retail groups, including the Service Station Association, the Independent Retailers Association and the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores, have been asked to join the campaign to hide the fact it is being financed by big tobacco. But most of the funds are coming in from British American Tobacco and Philip Morris, who between them have donated $2.5 million to the Liberal Party over the past 10 years. Liberal Party advisers like Crosby Textor are believed to the brains behind the campaign.
Interestingly a spokesman for Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton said plain packaging was something “we would look at in government, if elected”.