Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has told a United Nations meeting on disease management that governments around the world must unite in their fight against big tobacco.
Ms Roxon says multinational cigarette manufacturers work across borders and governments must therefore do the same to reduce the harm caused by smoking.
A UN general assembly high-level meeting in New York is looking at how best to prevent non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Ms Roxon told the meeting overnight that Australia was taking up the World Health Organisation’s challenge to introduce plain packaging for all cigarettes.
“The big tobacco giants are fighting desperately through multi-million-dollar advertising campaigns and threats of legal action,” she said in her address.
“They are fighting vigorously because they know plain packaging will hurt them by reducing sales, and they know if Australia succeeds in being the first country to implement these laws we won’t be the last.”
Ms Roxon said taking on cigarette manufacturers required resources and political will.
“(But) the fight against big tobacco is one which, together, we will win.”
Draft legislation, scheduled to be debated in the Australian Senate on Tuesday, will force all cigarettes to be sold in drab olive-brown packs from mid-2012.
Graphic health warnings will cover most of the package, which will be devoid of company branding.
Ms Roxon later told ABC Television that other like-minded countries had shown an “enormous” amount of interest in Australia’s plain-packaging push.
They needed to be informed what tactics big tobacco used in the battle, she said on Tuesday.
“We can share this information, we can support each other, we can make sure that everyone knows what’s going on in other countries.
“Tobacco companies are multinational ones, they work across borders, and we need to do that in our determination to protect the community from harm caused by smoking.”