Australia has passed legislation that will require all tobacco products to be in plain packaging from the start of December this year. In the UK, the Government’s consultation on standardised packaging adopts a more open-minded approach. However it is based on the tenuous premise that branding promotes smoking. It ignores the crucial role of branding in providing consumers with information and trust in the nature and quality of the products they are buying. Moreover, the implications of requisitioning intellectual property rights of legitimate companies must be properly assessed.
Whether on-pack branding promotes smoking must be open to question, given the impact of prominent graphic health warnings and increasingly restricted point-of-sale displays. Branding does however help consumers to understand differences between products, to distinguish quickly between them and to buy with confidence. Branding is also crucial to the working of markets, encouraging producers to invest in and compete on quality.
John Noble, director of the British Brands Group, states: “Branding fulfils many significant, positive functions for consumers and markets. Take it away and consumers lose out, and markets become commoditised, with price, not quality, being the influencing factor.”
Removing branding from packaging is also expected to fuel the trade in counterfeits. Ruth Orchard, director general of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group, says: “Plain packaging will be welcomed by the serious organised criminals in charge of the global trade in fakes. The standard designs will be easier to replicate illegally and will make it harder for consumers to spot counterfeits. These carry greater health risks than the genuine item, so it is likely that this proposal will backfire. Such effects need to be integrated into Government thinking.”
When branding and intellectual property rights are used to achieve policy goals, it is crucial that policy is proportionate and grounded on a full understanding, supported by robust evidence. Intellectual property rights, granted by the state and governed by international treaties, must also be taken into account, as rights will exist in packaging designs.
In one of our features this month, Eric Penne, key account manager for pharmaceutical and cosmetic track and trace at Atlantic Zeiser, talks to Packaging Today about the range of solutions available to beat the problem of counterfeit products. Because looking ahead, he asks, how much of a potential problem could plain cigarette packaging pose – a flood of fake products?