Tobacco products could soon lose their sparkle in England. The government plans on introducing plain packaging legislation in the coming months and word around town is that it will pass. If it does, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are likely to follow suit.
England’s proposed reforms virtually extinguish intellectual property rights by prohibiting the display of images, logos and colours on tobacco products. Only health warnings, a bland colour covering the entirety of the packaging and brand names in plain, black text are allowed. Consumers can also say goodbye to popular flavourings, such as menthol. The government hopes that the standarised packaging will promote public health by reducing tobacco consumption. However, commentators question whether the removal of valuable trade marks is an effective and justified means of doing so.
In 2012, Australia became the first country in the world to legislate for plain packaging. Many hoped it would be a useful case study to determine whether standarised packaging was actually worth it. Unfortunately, the picture remains unclear. While Australia has experienced a drop in cigarette sales since the reforms, some believe that the fall in sales may be caused by consumers switching to counterfeit cigarettes, a trend that is on the increase.
These smoky alternatives continue to carry branding and their booming popularity suggests that consumers are being drawn away from drab packaging to cheaper, non-regulated products that look good – a trend that raises a whole new raft of health concerns.
Adding fuel to the fire, Australia’s laws are presently being challenged before international tribunals by tobacco firms and countries that are reliant on tobacco exports. These same entities are keeping a close eye on England’s next move and are unlikely to sit quiet should its government follow Australia’s lead.
Plain packaging of consumer products is a topic of political debate. Setting aside any discussion of the health issues concerning smoking, the removal of intellectual property from tobacco products is an important legal rights issue in need of the critical inspection it is receiving around the globe.
This article was written by Sue Ironside.