David Prosser: When will big tobacco decide to give up?

Outlook The writing is on the wall for tobacco companies. The designs unveiled yesterday by the Australian Government for plain cigarette packaging have to be seen to be believed. Under itsproposals, which could become law within a matter of months, allcompany branding would disappear – instead, the make of thecigarette would appear in a font of standard style and size underneath eye-catching images illustrating the potential effects of smoking on health.

Australia is not out on a limb on this issue. One reason cigarette companies have been lobbying against the scheme so vociferously is that they fear other countries in Asia will follow the Australian example. In the West, public health campaigns are once again in the ascendancy – witness the proposal to remove cigarettes from the line of sight in shops in this country (we seem closer to plain packlegislation, too).

Even in the biggest emerging markets, particularly China, the prospects of big tobacco are bleak – not so much because of public health issues but because protectionist authorities are keen to safeguard the interests of domestic cigarette manufacturers.

There are a handful of markets where regulation – of the health or economic kind – is less of an issue, but Indonesia, say, cannot be everything for cigarette-makers.

What will the response of the tobacco industry be? Well, an initiative unveiled by British American Tobacco earlier this week might be one option. It has set up a new unit dedicated to developing products that deliver the nicotine hit smokers crave without them having to smoke. BAT does not, however, have details of exactly what its new project, named Nicoventures, might offer. Nor have previous initiatives of this type had much success.

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