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Ireland Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny gestures during a session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 23, 2014. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich  

Business leaders worry about packaging regulations

Will European packaging regulations hurt businesses in the U.S.? Many American business leaders are starting to think so.

Irish Prime Minister Taoiseach Enda Kenny heard about it during his visit to the U.S. last week. Ireland is just one country with proposals replace logos on cigarette packages with health warnings.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce presented the Irish prime minister with a letter opposing such policies.

“We urge you to consider the broader implications and avoid precipitous action that could convey an unintended and adverse message to Irish companies and foreign investors,” it read.

The letter said that dramatically altering the aesthetics of the packaging could infringe on the intellectual property rights of American companies.

It explained, “Measures that threaten to degrade such property rights whether patents, copyrights, trademarks or any other form of IP adversely affect American and Irish businesses alike.”

“This is the key reason we are so concerned about the plain packaging legislation that Ireland is currently considering. We believe it is entirely feasible to protect the public interest without undermining effective protections for intellectual property rights,” it continued.

The letter was signed by the National Association Of Manufacturers, the Chamber, the United States Council for International Business, Transatlantic Business Council, the National Foreign Trade Council and the Emergency Committee for Foreign Trade.

Plain packaging laws mandating that highly visible health warnings be placed on cigarette packaging, are already in place in Australia.

In an effort to deter customers from buying tobacco products, cigarette packages in Australia often have large images of cancer patients or rotting teeth and leave little space for company branding.

Similar efforts are now gaining momentum Ireland and throughout Europe.

Despite the growing support of the health initiative, some research shows that the measure has not curbed smoking habits.

In fact, there is a growing body of work indicating that the plain packaging can actually have adverse consequences – including job loss and increased black market activity.

There is also the broader fear that if plain packaging becomes an accepted way of regulating the tobacco industry, similar measures will be used for other products that the government labels unsafe for public consumption. This could include everything from sugary beverages, energy drinks, and calorie dense or high fat food.

For now business leaders are left pressing politicians to let them have space on their labels for company brands.

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