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British American Tobacco Australia (BATA), whose website states with anodyne irony that it “is helping to build effective programmes to address youth smoking”, has given us a further clue about what it might mean by “address”. The company has launched a range of twin-compartment Dunhill Distinct “wallet” packs.
Once out of the cellophane, the pack (see figure) folds apart. Separated by a thoughtfully perforated edge, it is ready to tear into two iPod-sized packs, one with 13 cigarettes and another with 7. Public health groups branded them “kiddie packs”, designed to appeal to price-sensitive children who can split the cost with their school lunch money and then split the pack as they step out of the shop.
Packs in Australia must contain a minimum of 20 cigarettes to deter children’s purchasing. It must never have crossed BATA’s mind that their nifty new tear-in-half packs might be a great way to beat the price barrier and provide two easily concealable packs for intrepid young smokers.
But someone in the company might have a lot of egg on their visage. Once the twin pack is torn in half, the larger section is without the mandatory pictorial warning (such as a fetching picture of a gangrenous foot) arguably breaching the Trade Practices Act. Complaints from health groups to Australia’s regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), in November saw the Federal Court of Australia uphold an injunction sought by the ACCC that BATA should stop selling the packs. With the packs having to be removed from shops, BATA will be back in court in February 2007, potentially facing a maximum fine of over A$1 million, equivalent to US$789 000, and a criminal record. Should this happen, such a record will not be lost as an extra descriptor for Australia’s largest tobacco company.
Although BATA’s website drips with public relations saccharine about the company’s youth smoking prevention programmes, in 2002–3, the value of tobacco sales to the Australian youth market was A$124.7 million (US$98.4 million), with A$18.7 million (US$77.6 million) going to manufacturers such as BAT. The companies keep the lot.
An internal BATA training DVD leaked to me a few years back showed senior executives jawing about how the international parent company saw its Australian operation as a global training ground for developing “a different skill set” in how to operate in the “darkest markets” on earth (Australia and Canada being named as the very darkest), where all tobacco advertising is banned. Strategically labelled “limited edition”, the Dunhill Distinct venture looks in every way like a limits-testing exercise to see whether the ACCC and the courts would bite. If criminal prosecutions follow, they may get more than they bargained for.
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