As predicted yesterday, the nation’s attention was successfully distracted — whether deliberately or not — from Rudd’s ETS backpeddling by revelations that Big Tobacco would be banned from placing images, logos, fancy text and slogans on cigarette packets, and that prices would jump to $20 a pack.

Australia apparently went into a smoke-buying frenzy, with addicts stocking up on cartons of relatively-cheaper fags like travellers at a South East Asian airport duty free store.

But the country is divided over whether both the plain packaging and/or high prices are a win or loss for the nation. Health experts are applauding, but Rudd’s “working Australians” aren’t cheering quite so loudly: in Cairns they think it’s “un-Australian”, Geelong is pissed off, Gympie retailers ask “won’t somebody think of the (smoker’s) children?”, Ipswitch won’t be deterred, and one Gold Coast residents labelled the move “disgusting” before buying up 11 packets.

Although for some reason, activist Canadian teenagers are apparently big fans of the plan.

In yesterday’s Crikey Daily Mail, Bernard Keane called the new laws an attack on our freedom, arguing that as long as they’re not hurting anyone else, Australians have the right to smoke themselves into an early grave without being punished:

It’s easy to see the harmful effects of smoking — or for that matter of alcohol abuse or poor diet; the corrosive effects of the increasingly successful efforts of the preventative health lobby to restrict individual and market freedoms are harder to see, but no less real.

In the other corner, Nicholas Gruen, the presiding commissioner of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into packaging and labelling argued (subscriber only) that although the taxes and restrictions may seem regressive, they work:

So the Rudd government is adopting the world’s most draconian cigarette packaging regulation and requiring cigarettes to be sold in plain packages from January 2012. Good on it.

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the nation’s commentators are equally split over whether individual liberties should trump public health interests.

Here’s a look at all the hot (smokey) air being puffed around this morning:

The Australian

Editorial: Deterrent or smokescreen?

Unfortunately, smoking rates remain higher among the people who suffer most from price hikes – lower socio-economic groups, including indigenous Australians, the unemployed and people with mental illnesses.

Tim Wilson: Plain packaging ploy likely to go up in smoke

The risk of having to compensate tobacco companies with taxpayers’ dollars is objectionable not just legally but morally.

George Megalogenis: Nothing new in old ‘cigs up’ ploy

Hitting smokers is Treasury’s way of filling a budget hole when the government of the day has an election to win.

Sydney Morning Herald

Editorial: Cigs up, nanny out and about

We remain sceptical of this sudden zeal to correct smokers’ shortcomings.

The Age

Editorial: Plain package, elaborate content

… [the changed] are sensible and in line with the government’s objective to cut smoking rates

Fiona Sharkey: Big tobacco’s coughing fit a big tick for plain packaging

… yesterday was a lifesaver for tens of thousands of Australians.

Becky Freeman and Simon Chapman: At last, truth in cigarette advertising

Plain packaging is nothing short of a triumph for health promotion and chronic disease prevention

Daily Telegraph

Malcolm Farr: Good for health, bad for politics

… there will be no soothing of angry smokers.

Courier Mail

Dennis Atkins: Kevin Rudd’s big tobacco speech is all too familiar

… a tricked-up diversion timed to coincide with Newspoll field work.

ELSEWHERE…

Australian Conservative, Barnaby Joyce: Ah, the “ETS” was the “Extra Tax on Smoking”, was it?

… ‘a government desperate to do anything to avoid attention because the reality is that they’ve done nothing’ story.

James Board: Cigarettes and nannies

… it’s times like these that makes me really appreciate living in South Korea despite its many faults. A pack of 20s costs around $2.40 Australian

Menzies House, Milton von Smith: Cigarettes: the new alcopops

It takes a special kind of idiocy to adopt a policy like plain packaging, which is not supported by any evidence.

Peter Fray

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