It was recently announced that the New Zealand parliament may impose a bill that would force cigarette companies to use plain packaging by 2017. For those unaware, plain packaging is an initiative to reduce smoking by prohibiting cigarette companies from using logos or trademarks on packages of their products . The effort by New Zealand is part of a campaign to completely end smoking in the country by 2025. The campaign for plain packaging is not only an ineffective effort to reduce smoking, but also a clear violation of intellectual property laws.
First and foremost, plain packaging prohibits companies from using their trademarks on their own products. Taking away trademarks from these companies is a clear violation of established international law, as treaties governed by the World Intellectual Property Organization clearly state that trademarks are protected as a subset of intellectual property. Additionally, the destruction of trademarks could lead to an increase in counterfeit cigarette packages. Without a distinct logo, color, or marking for tracking, among other things, counterfeit cigarettes can more easily enter the market. Since we do not know where these cigarettes would be coming from, or how they are made, they could prove more harmful to individuals than brand-certified cigarettes.
Second, while the major issue with plain packaging is that it violates international laws on intellectual property, there is also significant evidence that it does not actually reduce smoking. Recent scientific studies completed in Australia since the introduction of plain packaging there prove that the laws have not decreased tobacco consumption. In fact, it seems the laws have done the opposite, as there is evidence of an increase in tobacco consumption following the introduction of the laws.
Another area of sales have also increased in Australia, which is the sale of illegal (counterfeit) tobacco. After the introduction of the laws in Australia, sales of illegal tobacco increased by 26%. Thus, it is proven that plain packaging laws do nothing to reduce tobacco sales, further weakening the arguments of proponents of the law. However, even if smoking was somehow reduced, plain packaging laws should still be banned on the grounds that they violate international IP law.
While countries are struggling to find ways to reduce smoking, especially among teens and young adults, forcing plain packaging on cigarette companies is not the answer. If we allow countries to regulate the tobacco industry in this way, that may send a bad signal to industries that IP laws are being weakened. This signal could reduce investment and destroy innovation, leading to a loss of jobs. Intellectual property law is constantly coming under attack in the 21st century, and we need to ensure its protection by discouraging plain packaging laws in nations across the world.