Windhoek — Australian courts this week threw out the bid by tobacco conglomerates to block government from introducing plain packaging for cigarettes.
Closer to home tobacco product distributors operating in Namibia have been banking on a victory in the Australian courts to strengthen their arguments against similar plans by the Namibian government. Namibia Gazetted the Tobacco Products Control Act of 2010 that introduced plain packaging and ban the use of words such 'mild' or 'light' on cigarette boxes or any other tobacco products sold in Namibia.
The world's biggest and the Namibian market leader in tobacco products, British American Tobacco (BAT) has been fighting the Act with serious threats to take the government to court if it dared to implement the Act.
BAT has been citing the Australian court case as an example of how far it is prepared to go to fight the Namibian government over what it says is tantamount to expropriation of its trademarks properties. BAT also says plain packaging takes away its trade rights to freely communicate to consumers the nature of their lawful products on offer.
The Australian government's victory now exposes BAT, along with Japan's Tobacco International (JTI) and Imperial Tobacco to similar laws across the world. Britain, Canada, New Zealand, China, France, India, South Africa, Norway and Uruguay are already considering implementing the plain packaging measures.
Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) member states intend to adopt the generic Tobacco Products Control Act of South Africa that is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s pressure on the use of tobacco products, through the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. BAT has been saying the proposed branding would exacerbate the illegal tobacco trade in Namibia where about 225 000 cigarettes are illegally sold every day.
BAT has a market share of about 85 percent of the Namibian tobacco market, selling just over 330 million cigarettes every year in the country. Namibians are said to smoke 75 000 packs of 20 cigarettes each per day or an equivalent of 1.5 million cigarettes each day. The court ruling in Australia makes Australia the first country in the world where cigarettes are sold in drab, olive coloured packets with graphic health warnings and no logos.
In Namibia the number of smokers has increased with most smokers being young women. Figures provided by the health ministry in mid-2010 singled out the Hardap Region, where most women smoke more than the estimated average for women smokers globally.
Two specific regions, Omaheke and Hardap, are said to have the highest average number of women smokers. In the Hardap Region, the average is 24 percent, which the health ministry says tops the list of women smokers countrywide. Interestingly, that average percentage also exceeds the estimated number of women smokers worldwide, which is estimated at 20 percent of the total number of smokers.
The health ministry is concerned that the number of young smokers could increase as tobacco companies capitalise on marketing opportunities that become available to entice new smokers.
The Tobacco Products Control Act of 2010 also mandates the establishment of a fund from levies on sales of tobacco and other sources.
The fund would partly use the money to pay for treatment of tobacco-related illnesses. The new proposed packaging features graphic pictures depicting the ill health associated with smoking.
These range from stained teeth, throat cancer to damaged lungs and breast cancer with appropriate warnings underneath the picture. If the new legislation is implemented fully there would be a total blackout on advertising, promotion and any public relations activities around tobacco products or companies whose names are directly associated with tobacco products.