Global Anti-Plain Packaging Coalition Says 5 Years of Failure is Long Enough

Australia’s prohibition of trademarks on cigarette packages has failed. Instead of accelerating the reduction of smoking, the two-decade long decline came to a stop.

Property Rights Alliance warned that there would be monumental unintended consequences early on. Unfortunately, the World Health Organization continues to encourage other countries to adopt the same policy.

Today Property Rights Alliance released a letter to the current WHO Direct-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, calling for an end to the failed policy that infringes on intellectual property rights.

The support for intellectual property rights is clearly gaining ground. The coalition of 61 think tanks and rights advocates includes signers from Chile and Turkey which have recently started to consider the measure, as well as 35 other countries signifying a consolidated global effort ranging from Albania to Venezuela.

The letter says, “even if plain packaging is effective, it should still be repealed, as rights are inalienable and should not be discarded for political purposes.”

The right to own and control one’s intellectual property is a human right. The letter references several Articles in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement which sets the world minimum standard for enforcing IP rights.

Unfortunately, denying the ability of producers to differentiate their products comes with huge unintended consequences. Without brands that help customers make decisions they can easily be fooled by illegal, and even more unhealthy, products.

That seems to be the case in Australia, the UK, France and other countries with plain packaging. The Australian Border Force has had to seize more illicit tobacco than before, fighting illicit tobacco is the most investigated IP-crime in the UK, and illicit goods are directly linked to funding terrorists in France which is the largest consumer of counterfeit cigarettes in the EU.

There plain packaging has had the same dismal results as in Australia. Recently the French Minister of Health in France announced “official sales of cigarettes increased in France, the neutral package [plain packaging] did not reduce the official sale of tobacco.”

Despite its consistent failure for five years there have already been calls to extend plain packaging to other “sin” industries such as alcohol, sugary drinks, and fast food. This group includes some of largest businesses in the world. The world’s leading brand evaluator estimated the loss of brand value alone to the beverage industry would amount to $293 billion.

The WHO must act and make decisions based on fact. Plain packaging is a failed policy. It must be removed from the WHO’s recommended list of policy options to comply with the Framework Convention to Control Tobacco.