Tobacco companies contest cigarette plain packaging proposal in Australia

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On the heels of the new graphic cigarette warning labels comes a proposed law in Australia that aims to institute plain packaging for all cigarette brands. The Australian government plans to ban company logos on cigarette packs while requiring they be sold in plain dark olive packaging. In addition, all brand names must appear in the same size and style of font; health warning labels will supplant traditional trademark logos.

Already, cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris International Inc. has notified the Australian government of its intent to pursue a case in international arbitration, as they claim the new law would violate a 1994 treaty between Australia and Hong Kong prohibiting the forced removal of trademarks.

Julia Gillard, Australia s Prime Minister, says she won t let tobacco companies intimidate her, however. We re not taking a backward step. We ve made the right decision and we ll see it through.

After a look at the literature, ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross says there is scant evidence in support of plain packaging s effective reduction of the harm of cigarettes and there may actually be a downside: Plain packaging would ease the path toward a larger black market of counterfeit cigarettes, as generic-type packages are easily copied by smugglers. Further, he adds, Plain packaging laws essentially allow the government to seize property, and despite the ill feelings we may have toward cigarette manufacturers, this becomes an important legal issue since we might be headed down a slippery slope of government overreach.

This is a unique and complex situation because product branding is important to the sales of any legal product, observes ACSH's Cheryl Martin. And while the health dangers of cigarettes have caused them to be a highly controlled and regulated product, what educational value is added by making packages generic? Perhaps it will cause smokers to be less picky about the brand they smoke, but that doesn t necessarily translate to a reduction in smoking then again, it may.