The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Plain Packaging Spreads to Ireland

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Following Australia's 2012 foray into plain packaging, the Irish Senate adopted a resolution to restrict the use of corporate logos and trademarks on cigarette packaging on March 3, 2015. The resolution had previously passed the Lower House in late February, and now heads to the Irish President to be signed into law. Unfortunately, these new restrictions amount to nothing more than a theft of intellectual property rights by stripping away manufacturers' trademark and brand rights, and potentially leading to consumer confusion about the products and brands they want to buy.  Regardless of how the name sounds, there is nothing plain about plain packaging. In Australia, the law requires cigarette packages to be strewn with dramatic photographs warning of the perceived effects of smoking placed on a plain drab package with the name of the product noted in small letters. There is ongoing debate as to whether plain packaging has been a success in Australia, leading one to wonder why Ireland pursued this effort without adequate findings.  In a July 17, 2014 NewsCorp Australia interview, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Senior Executive Geoff Neideck admitted that it would be a stretch to claim that the use of plain packaging played “a key factor” in cutting the smoking rate.  According to a 2014 case study of Australia’s plain packaging laws by MyChoice Australia Director Lara Jeffery, in spite of that country’s efforts to reduce smoking through plain packaging on cigarettes, cigarette consumption has not seen a measurable decrease. Instead, with stripped away branding, consumers are choosing to purchase less expensive cigarette brands, and the incidence of counterfeiting cigarettes has increased with product packaging that is easier to mimic. Ireland’s move raises even greater concern as governments increasingly take on the role of the “nanny-state.” Imagine plain packaging appearing on every product that a bureaucrat finds objectionable: trucks and SUVs; fatty and salty foods; alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and liquor.  The lack of evidence that plain packaging changes behavior has not deterred legislators from going after other products. A bill that would restrict packaging on alcoholic beverages has been introduced in Australia for the past several years, although it has not yet been enacted. In addition to increasing the role governments play in consumer choice, plain packaging also undermines the credibility of government efforts to protect intellectual property.  Fortunately, some companies are fighting back.  In 2012, Mars, Inc., the American-owned global confectionery and food manufacturer and the third-largest privately held company in the U.S., wrote to the United Kingdom Department of Health voicing its concern over the impact of plain packaging.  The letter stated that “Mars is concerned that the introduction of mandatory plain packaging in the tobacco industry would also set a key precedent for the application of similar legislation to other industries, including the food and non-alcoholic beverage industries in which Mars operates.” Trademark and brand recognition are important components to ensuring the integrity of intellectual property, whether applied to the purchase of clothing, automobiles, bath soaps, groceries, or even cigarettes. It is through these trademarks that consumers can recognize the brands they trust and prefer.

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