MANILA, 23 November 2011 - The World Health Organization congratulates Australia for becoming the first country to pass legislation requiring all tobacco products to be sold in plain packaging.

"Australia has every reason to be proud of this historic accomplishment," says Dr Shin Young-soo, the World Health Organization's Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "The legislation sets a new global standard for the control of a product that accounts for nearly 6 million deaths each year. It also reinforces Australia's compliance with its obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the guidelines to which encourage countries to restrict or ban the use of logos, colours and brand images. The legislation will save lives, and it solidifies Australia's well-deserved reputation as a leader in tobacco control. All countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region should follow Australia's good example."

Australia's Parliament passed the legislation on 21 November 2011. Beginning on 1 December 2012, all tobacco products sold in Australia will have to be in the same standard dark brown packaging with matte finish.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris International has threatened to sue Australia to prevent the country from implementing the plain packaging legislation.

"It's typical of the tobacco industry to respond aggressively with lawsuits and threats of lawsuits whenever a new tobacco control measure, evidence-based and protective of the public's health, threatens to reduce its profits," Dr Shin says. "We urge the industry to accept the judgment of Australia's Parliament."

Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of preventable death. In the World Health Organization Western Pacific Region, it is estimated that two people die every minute from a tobacco-related disease. Of the world's cigarettes, one in three is smoked in the Region.

On World No Tobacco Day 2011 (31 May), WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan bestowed a special award to Australian Health and Ageing Minister Nicola Roxon for her tireless leadership in tobacco control, in particular her efforts to make plain packaging for tobacco products a reality in Australia. Dr Chan has chosen "tobacco industry interference" as the theme of World No Tobacco Day 2012.