Saturday, 11 August 2012

Plain packaging: acquiring commercial assets without compensation

It was announced recently that next Wednesday we will learn whether the tobacco companies' challenge to the Australian government on plain packaging has succeeded. The Australian government has been taken to task for preventing the use of brand packaging, which they regard as a breach of international law. The Australian government denies that there is any breach, claiming that it does not directly acquire the intellectual property that is constituted in the branding.

The government has no direct use for the branding and design of tobacco packaging. However it does acquire selling and marketing space by depriving tobacco companies of the use of their intellectual property in the shape of branding, and of the actual boxes and packaging in which they sell their tobacco. The hope is to prevent young people from smoking 'by encouraging them to pay more attention to the health warnings'. (See this debate.) This is a key selling point of the policy: removing the clutter of branding from the pack face in order to make health warnings more prominent. Not only are they rendering worthless the branding assets of companies, on which billions have been invested over time, but they expect packaging to dissuade the purchaser from buying the product – and the prominence of the health warnings are central to this idea.

The government does not acquire the branding directly via a plain packaging policy but it does acquire powers to control what goes on the wrapper, in this case to stipulate that health warnings advertising smoking cessation services are prominent. Clearly the aim is to stop smokers spending money on tobacco and encourage them to become clients of stop smoking services and smoking cessation medication. It is entirely right that tobacco companies (and others) should object to this daylight robbery, which is no less robbery because tobacco branding is not employed directly by the government.


Anonymous said...

Right. First off, I will not bring up the issue of the stigmatisation of smokers in this comment but focus instead on the obvious problems.
There is a conflict between tobacco control and tobacco companies (and I have no conflict of interest here, I despise both of them).
However the tobacco companies are being denied the right to exhibit their brand logo on their own product, a government approved and regulated product, while tobacco control have a blank canvas on which to display their message.
Is that consistent with 'natural justice' so beloved of righteous politicians? (By the way, is tobacco control paying the tobacco companies to display its message on the packs?)
Apparently this is a public health measure. Well, since we are told that obesity is a major problem among young people-of course, plain packaging is being promoted, in the UK at least, as being in the interest of the children (and who would dare argue with any such move?)-can we expect to see any time soon a move towards plain packaging for McDonald's and Coca Cola?
Oh Dear! I forgot, these are sponsors of the Olympic Games.
I suppose they must be paragons of health food and drinks, then.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I forgot to sign that comment.
Michael Davidson.
Freedom To Choose (Scotland)
P,S. Another excellent blog, Belinda.

Mallon said...

It seems to me that a fair solution would be for the Australian Government, on behalf of their politically correct population, should compensate the Tobacco Companies to the tune of billions of dollars and go ahead then with plain packaging. Ask them to put their money where their big mouths are concerned and see how much they believe in their own initiative !

Pat Nurse MA said...

What about the rights of consumers? Why are they being stripped of brand choice and price comparison on their legitimate product of choice?

Why are they being denied the same rights as other consumers who won't have prescriptive sized goods such as those also deemed unhealthy such as alcohol, fizzy drinks or junk food?

Standardised packaging will mean that consumers will have no choice about what brand, what type of tobacco, or what size of cigarette they choose to smoke. They will, instead, be forced to buy Govt tobacco with contents and taste decided by Govt and it's smokerphobic orgs.

That's a bit like allowing the BNP to decide the health needs and services of immigrants.

Consumer rights groups should be screaming out about this. Why aren't they?

Don't forget that this is all part of the WHO's 50 year plan which ends with total control of the tobacco plant and market by Big Pharma and remaining smokers forced onto prescriptions.

Belinda said...


This is an angle I haven't considered much, as I barely ever buy tobacco, but you are entirely right about this. I am not sure which consumers' organizations actually operate these days.

Michael: thank you, that's well put.

Pat Nurse MA said...

A smokerphobic never smoker tried to tell me that my rights as a tobacco consumer were not being taken because I could still buy cigarettes even if they were to be in standardised packaging.

I asked how he would feel if he had no choice but to buy one brand and size of tea or coffee (both said recently to cause cancer) or a prescriptive standard size bar of chocolate without the right to choose whether it should be plain, milk, or with nuts, or raisens, Cadbury's or Nestle or Galaxy, but Govt issue.

After all, chocolate is bad isn't it because it causes obesity to "epidemic" proportions along with junk food so let's just get rid of all brand and product choice and allow the Govt to feed us and decide for us what we should spend our hard earned money on.

Australia has gone mad and our Govt has been infected with the insanity.