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Philip Morris questions conflict of interest in plain packaging review

Philip Morris Limited has called on the Federal Health Minister to investigate the appointment of anti-tobacco campaigner Melanie Wakefield of the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer – one of the chief architects behind the tobacco plain packaging laws – to investigate whether the policy is working.

Philip Morris has asked why the Department of Health has engaged – without tender – one of the chief architects behind plain packaging laws to undertake a National Tracking Survey to assess their effectiveness. The Department of Health has stated that the National Tracking Survey is a key measure for determining its view of the impact and effectiveness of plain packaging and graphic health warnings.

Philip Morris Limited Director of Corporate Affairs, Chris Argent, said it was not appropriate for one of the primary advocates and designers of plain packaging to conduct a taxpayer-funded review of the policy.

“This is akin to a student setting the end of year exam questions, taking the test and then marking their own work,” Mr Argent said.

Professor Wakefield was a member of the former Labor Government’s Tobacco Expert Committee which recommended plain packaging in 2008 and then subsequently provided advice to the Government on the implementation of the ban on brands. Public records also reveal that Professor Wakefield and the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer have received more than $7 million in Federal funding to research tobacco control policies in the last decade.

“This raises the perception of serious conflict of interest issues and gives rise to concerns about the ability of Professor Wakefield and the Centre to objectively assess and provide advice on the effectiveness of plain packaging,” Mr Argent said.

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