Tobacco Companies Fight Irish Plain Packaging Proposal

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Ireland has become the first European Union member state to introduce plain-packaging legislation for tobacco products, but not without pushback from tobacco companies, The Irish Times reports. (RELATED: Business leaders worry about packaging regulations)

If enacted, the use of logos, colors, and trademarks would be banned from cigarette packs, being replaced instead by uniform graphics illustrating the severe health risks associated with smoking.

Ireland’s Minister for Health James Reilly is confident that the proposed legislation would cause a substantial decrease in smoking rates: “This is really a great day for Ireland and for our children and it’s a really bad day for Big Tobacco.”

Plain-packaging in Ireland has not gone unnoticed by business groups in the United States. In an effort to forestall the precedent of plain-packaging, a conglomeration of six business lobbies, encompassing dozens of corporations, urged the prime minister on his visit last March to the U.S. to reject plans for what they see as egregious violations of trademarks.

Plain-packaging, they maintain, “could convey an unintended and adverse message to Irish companies and foreign investors.” And especially, U.S. companies take the value of their intellectual property seriously.

The 2013 World Intellectual Property Report found that “investment in branding stands at USD $340 billion in 2010 for the U.S. alone — twice as much as previous incomplete estimates. This exceeds US companies’ investments in R&D or design, and accounts for a quarter of their intangible asset investments.”

As a result, legal battles have ensued elsewhere in Australia, the only other country where plain-packaging has been implemented. Currently, the legislation is being debated in New Zealand.

In Ireland, tobacco companies are already preparing aggressive legal challenges. “We are currently considering all our options regarding a future legal challenge if plain packaging legislation is enacted,” said John Freda of JTI Ireland, owner of the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands.

Whether or not it plain-packaging has been successful is still a matter of heated debate, but one study in Ireland conducted by the Irish Cancer Society and Irish Heart Foundation suggests that teenagers find plain-packaging less enticing, according to Dr. Pat Doorley.

A spokesperson for John Player & Sons, a cigarette company, argued in turn that, “People start smoking due to peer pressure and social influences, not due to branding.” For tobacco companies, the fundamental issue is the removal of trademarks from cigarette packs, as this hinders the ability of consumers to distinguish between brands.

“I can say that the obvious danger from our point of view is that the ability to detect counterfeit or illicit material would be made more difficult by a system where there was no difference between one pack and another [plain packs],” said Mike Norgrove, Director of Excise, Customs, Stamps and Money, in front of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Minister Reilly’s plan is simply one step in the agenda of making Ireland tobacco-free by 2025, BBC reports. For Reilly, the goal is a rate of no more than 5 percent, which requires substantial in-roads to bring the smoking figure down from 22 percent.

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