11.0 Background

Australia got off to a slow start compared to other English-speaking Commonwealth countries in introducing bans on the broadcast of tobacco advertisements on television and radio, but since the 1980s Australia has been a pioneer in the control of tobacco advertising and promotion. As early as the 1960s, tobacco control advocates such as Dr Cotter Harvey, founder of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health (ACOSH), and Dr Nigel Gray, then director of the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria (now Cancer Council Victoria), aimed to put tobacco advertising on the political agenda. Legislation to ban advertising of tobacco products was ACOSH's first major goal1 and Gray's most important target in his lifelong commitment to cancer prevention.2 Both men wrote countless letters on the topic and tirelessly sought representations with government ministers at both state and national levels. Dr Gray alone wrote to 14 different Ministers for Communication under seven different governments over the following 20 years.3 In 1971, with smoking rates at record levels and frustrated by the slow pace of change, the Cancer Council produced a groundbreaking series of television commercials featuring high-profile TV actors and comedians parodying popular tobacco advertisements of the time and enlisting the support (including in another advertisement) of Nobel prize-winning Victorian virologist Sir Macfarlane Burnet.i It was not until 1973 that a ban on the broadcast of advertisements for tobacco products was finally introduced.

Direct cigarette advertising on radio and television was phased out over the three years between 1 September 1973 and 1 September 1976. Advertising which was construed as 'accidental or incidental' to a broadcast or transmission was allowed to continue, a provision included as a late amendment to the legislation before it was passed in 1976. There is little doubt that this amendment occurred in direct response to tobacco industry lobbying. The tobacco industry had already managed to ensure major exposure on television in the US following a direct advertising ban by engaging in sponsorship of sport: they planned to do the same in Australia, provided the legislation gave them the opportunity. Internal industry documents from the 1970s record the Australian general manager of Rothmans stating that the imminent:

… the reason for the existence of the Rothmans National Sport Foundations and our sponsorships which are being developed in anticipation of restrictive advertising action in Australia.' 4

In October 1988, the then Minister for Health, the Hon. Dr Neal Blewett, stated his support for a national ban on tobacco advertising in newspapers and magazines, advising that he would proceed with legislation provided he had the support of the states. In the following year Australian Government support was gained for a ban in the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority. In May 1989, that committee, comprising representatives from all major political parties, unanimously recommended to parliament that tobacco advertising be completely banned. In August 1989, Democrat Senator Janet Powell announced her intention to table the Smoking and Tobacco Products Advertisements (Prohibition) Bill, which proposed a ban on tobacco advertising in the print media, billboards and cinema, and to outlaw sporting sponsorship. The legislation was subsequently amended by the government to include print media (locally produced newspapers and magazines), but to exclude cinema, billboard and sponsorship advertising, on the grounds that these more correctly fell within state jurisdictions. The Smoking and Tobacco Products Advertisements (Prohibition) Act was passed on December 28, 1989.5

New legislation passed in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia between 1987 and 1990 sought to outlaw tobacco advertising through sport and the arts. Elsewhere in Australia the 'accidental or incidental' exemption in the Broadcasting Act and the 1989 legislation continued to allow advertising of tobacco products on player uniforms and at sporting venues. These were clearly readable in television broadcasts and newspaper photographs throughout the entire country. The association of sports people with tobacco was hugely beneficial to the image of tobacco products. Sponsorship of sport and the arts also gave tobacco company executives access to politicians in an informal environment at functions associated with sporting and cultural events. With tobacco companies sponsoring all of the football codes (Australian Rules, rugby and soccer), the Australian Opens in tennis and golf, motor racing in all forms, major opera and ballet companies and many other sports, arts and cultural groups, events and festivals, tobacco advertisements were ubiquitous. Sport became the major battleground for further restrictions on tobacco advertising during the early 1990s, particularly after health promotion foundations in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and elsewhere demonstrated that alternative sponsors were not so difficult to attract.6

With the passage on 17 December 1992 of the Australian Government's Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 (the Act),7 most forms of tobacco sponsorship were phased out by December 1995, with cricket sponsorship concluding on 30 April 1996. (Sponsorship exemptions were granted to events that were of international importance that would otherwise not be held in Australia if sponsorship were banned.) Finally, after 31 December 1995, advertising on billboards, illuminated signs and other outdoor signs could no longer be displayed. The maximum penalty for any regulated corporation to 'knowingly or recklessly' publish, or authorise or cause a tobacco advertisement to be published is 120 penalty units. Under the Act, 'Accidental or incidental' publication of tobacco advertisements is permitted if the advertisement is an accidental or incidental accompaniment to the publication of other matter and the publisher does not receive any direct or indirect benefit (whether financial or not) for publishing the advertisement (in addition to any direct or indirect benefit that the person receives for publishing the other matter).

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) defines tobacco advertising and promotion as 'any form of commercial communication, recommendation or action with the aim, effect or likely effect of promoting a tobacco product or tobacco use either directly or indirectly' (p4) and requires that each country shall 'undertake a comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship' (p11).8 Australia has signed and ratified the treaty and is therefore bound by these terms.

Because of the comprehensiveness of its legislation, in 2001 Australia was described by British American Tobacco Australia officials as having one of the 'darkest markets in the world', rivalled only by Canada, in which to market tobacco products (piii1).2 Despite this situation, marketing of tobacco products continues today. While Australia closed most 'above-the-line' marketing opportunities to tobacco companies, the industry focused instead on non-traditional means of promotion, capitalising on legislative gaps and loopholes. Industry marketing efforts since the later 1990s have included event promotions, trade marketing, in-store displays and innovative packaging.9,10 To address these methods of promotion, since the early 2000s, Australian states and territories introduced retail display bans of tobacco products. Additionally, the Australian Government has introduced the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010 which seeks to make it an offence to advertise tobacco products on the Internet and in other forms of electronic media. The Internet is clearly a major vehicle by which young people can be exposed to tobacco advertising and promotion and this legislative change aims to bring electronic means of advertising, whether on the Internet or by other electronic means, into line with other restrictions in place for other media. At the time of writing, Australia is introducing world-leading legislation to implement its 29 April 2010 announcement11,12 that, as of 1 July 2012, all tobacco products will be required to be sold in standardised, plain packaging.

This chapter outlines why tobacco advertising is a problem, examines existing Australian national, state and territory tobacco advertising legislation, and details recent and current marketing strategies of the tobacco industry. A glossary of key advertising terms can be found in the box below.

Glossary of key advertising terms

Above-the-line: marketing via the mass media (print, television, radio, posters/billboards and cinema)10

Advertising: any paid form of non-personal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods or services by an identified sponsor13

Below-the-line: marketing via methods other than mass media (print, television, radio, posters/billboards and cinema)10

Branding: the use of a name, term, symbol or design to identify a product14

Buzz marketing: using popular entertainment or news to encourage people to talk about a brand or product15

Dark market: highly restricted marketing environment9

Guerrilla marketing: a form of unconventional marketing, such as chalk messages on a sidewalk, which is often associated with staged events16

Marketing: business activities that direct the exchange of goods and services between producers and consumers16 and includes not only the advertising and other forms of promotion of products but also pricing, packaging and distribution or 'placement' (known as the 'four Ps' of marketing)

Mobile seller: a salesperson who carries tobacco products in a tray or container for the purpose of selling the product directly to customers in venues such as bars or outdoor events

Non-branded advertising: advertising that promotes smoking but contains no specific tobacco brand

Open source marketing: collaboration between consumers and brand owners on the development and promotion of products and services17

Point-of-sale marketing: the arrangements of product and placement of promotional material in retail stores18

Product placement: paid promotion of a product or brand through movies, television and other entertainment media, often incorporated into the storyline19

Promotion: the co-ordination of all seller-initiated efforts to set up channels of information and persuasion to sell goods and services or to promote an idea. The tools can include advertising, direct marketing (communicating directly with consumers), sales promotion (marketing aimed at the sales force or distributors) and public relations (execution of strategies that earn public understanding and acceptance)20

Relationship marketing: the ongoing process of identifying and maintaining contact with high-value consumers16

Social network marketing: unlike traditional forms of marketing that seek to target customers with advertisements, companies and marketers that successfully join in this complex network of relations seek to befriend their customers by incorporating them into cyberspace social networks21

(Tobacco) sponsorship: any form of contribution to any event, activity or individual with the aim, effect or likely effect of promoting a tobacco product or tobacco use either directly or indirectly22

Split packs: tobacco packs that can be divided into multiple, smaller packs once purchased; the smaller packs sometimes do not bear the required health warnings and information

Tobacco display: tobacco products visible at retail stores

Trade marketing: marketing that relates to increasing demand for products at wholesaler, retailer or distributor level rather than more directly at the consumer level

Viral marketing: creating entertaining or informative messages that are designed to be passed along, like a virus, in an exponential fashion, often electronically or by email15

Word-of-mouth marketing: the creation and dissemination of advertising that encourages people to talk about the brand or products; includes buzz marketing and viral marketing, known as word of mouse when conducted electronically15


i See http://www.cancervic.org.au/about/70-years/history-1970s


Relevant news and research

For recent news items and research on this topic, click here.(Last updated September 2023)



1. The Cancer Council Western Australia. The progress of tobacco control in Western Australia: achievements, challenges and hopes for the future. Perth: The Cancer Council Western Australia, 2008. Available from: http://www.cancerwa.asn.au/resources/2010-07-07-Tobacco-Control-Monograph.pdf

2. Gray N. Public health, preventive medicine, politics and the law. Cancer Forum 1988;12:5–8.

3. Walker R. Under fire. A history of tobacco smoking in Australia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1984.

4. Rothmans of Pall Mall Australia Pty Ltd. Minutes of Management Meeting, held November 1970, No 54. 1970

5. Smoking and Tobacco Products Advertisements (Prohibition) Act 1989. No.181 Available from: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/num_act/satpaa1989562/

6. Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. The story of VicHealth: a world first in health promotion. Melbourne: Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, 2005. Available from: https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/search/the-story-of-vichealth

7. Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 (Cth). No. 218 Available from: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/tapa1992314/

8. World Health Organization. Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Geneva: World Health Organization, adopted 16 June 2003, entered into force 27 February 2005. Available from: http://www.who.int/tobacco/framework/WHO_FCTC_english.pdf

9. Chapman S, Byrne F and Carter SM. 'Australia is one of the darkest markets in the world': the global importance of Australian tobacco control. Tobacco Control 2003;12(suppl. 3):iii1–iii3. Available from: http://tc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/12/suppl_3/iii1

10. Carter SM. Going below the line: creating transportable brands for Australia's dark market. Tobacco Control 2003;12(suppl. 3):iii87-iii94. Available from: http://tc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/12/suppl_3/iii87

11. Rudd K, Swan W and Roxon N. Prime Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Health. Anti-Smoking Action. [Media release] . Canberra: Office of the Prime Minister, 29 April 2010 [viewed 3 September 2010] . Available from: http://www.alp.org.au/federal-government/news/anti-smoking-action/

12. Australian Government. Taking preventative action: Government's response to Australia: the healthiest country by 2020. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing, 2010. Available from: http://yourhealth.gov.au/internet/yourhealth/publishing.nsf/Content/report-preventativehealthcare

13. Kotler P, Brown L, Adam S and Armstrong G. Marketing. 6 ed. Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia, 2004.

14. National Cancer Institute. Part 2-Tobacco marketing. In: The Role of the Media. Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph no. 19. Bethesda MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, 2008. Available from: http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/tcrb/monographs/19/index.html

15. Word of Mouth Marketing Association. Types of Word of Mouth Marketing. Word of Mouth Marketing Association 2007, [viewed 20 May 2007] . Available from: http://www.womma.org/wom101/06/

16. Wells W, Moriarty S and Burnett J. Advertising principles and practice. 7 ed. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006.

17. Freeman B and Chapman S. Open source marketing: Camel cigarette brand marketing in the Web 2.0 world. Tobacco Control 2009;18(3):212-7. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/18/3/212.full

18. Carter SM. New frontier, new power: the retail environment in Australia's dark market. Tobacco Control 2003;12(suppl. 3):iii95-iii101. Available from: http://tc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/12/suppl_3/iii95

19. George L. Is Kiefer Sutherland trying to sell you something? Maclean's 2005;8(30-5) Available from: http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=20050221_100566_100566

20. Belch G and Belch M. Advertising and promotion: An integrated marketing communications perspective. 6th edn. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2004.

21. Freeman B and Chapman S. British American Tobacco on Facebook: undermining Article 13 of the global World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Tobacco Control 2010;19(3):e1-9. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/19/3/e1.abstract

22. World Health Organization. MPOWER: A policy package to reverse the tobacco epidemic. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2008. Available from: http://www.who.int/tobacco/mpower/mpower_english.pdf