Global groups attack plan to ban branded cigarette packets
Eight global trademark and intellectual property rights groups have joined forces to demand the Government abandons plans to outlaw branded cigarette packets.
The organisations, mainly based in Europe, are the latest to attack the hard-hitting marketing clampdown and warned alcoholic drinks could be the next target.
The IP associations claim a ban on all logos, trademarks, colours, designs and graphics on tobacco products – except gruesome images of disease – will take basic ownership rights from the big tobacco firms.
“Basically, plain packaging laws amount to an indirect legislative expropriation of these valuable property rights,” the groups said.
“Even where there is a need to achieve important public objectives such as health, any proposed legislation and/or policy options should not deviate from maintaining an appropriate balance with legitimate intellectual property rights, obtained in respect of lawful products.”
If Health Minister James Reilly’s new law comes into force later this year, tobacco marketing will be virtually banned except for the make or name of the product in a uniform typeface on a plain background.
The aim is to make packets look less attractive, to make health warnings more prominent and to reduce the risk that people, especially children, will be misled about the harmful effects of smoking, the Government has said.
It is expected to be fiercely contested in the courts by tobacco firms.
Yesterday, Dr Reilly increased the heat on big tobacco by saying 20 cigarettes should cost €20.
In a letter to the Government last week, the IP groups said the evidence from Australia, where the marketing ban was first introduced in an effort to reduce the number of smokers, remains inconclusive.
“It is most unfortunate, and indeed undesirable, that the Irish Government should be proceeding with this legislation at a time when the effectiveness of the Australian plain packaging law is at least uncertain and indeed is being seriously called into question,” they said.
The signatories are the Association of Trademarks and Designs Rights Practitioners, French-speaking specialists in industrial and intellectual property; the Benelux Trademark Association; Czech Association for Branded Products; the European Communities Trademark Association; the International Chamber of Commerce; Marques, which represents brand owners’ interests; l’Union des Fabricants, the French international property rights group; and Union IP, the union of European practitioners in intellectual property.
They said they are greatly concerned by the move and have continuously expressed their concerns about the laws to European chiefs.
“It cannot be stated often enough that registered trade marks, and the ’goodwill’ created by their long use on products, are rights of property which are to be treated like any other property,” they said.
The group said these rights are protected under trademark laws and European human rights rules.
A spokeswoman said some individual members involved in the lobby also act as in-house lawyers for tobacco companies but the associations represent a wide range of industries, with tobacco only forming a small part. The associations are not funded by tobacco firms, she added.
The marketing ban in Australia is being challenged by five countries before the World Trade Organisation.
The groups added: “Finally, the signatories of this statement wish to emphasise that these concerns do not only apply in respect of tobacco products.
“Already there have been suggestions that similar measures, as have been proposed for tobacco products, might be applied to alcoholic drinks and to other products that are considered unhealthy.
“To adopt any plain packaging requirements would be setting a precedent for other products.”
Ireland will be the first country in Europe to push through such stringent restrictions on tobacco sales when the legislation is passed later this year.