On October 8th, the European Union (EU) voted to amend the current Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). While the revised TPD is not actually adopted, it is on the way. The purpose of the vote is to create stricter regulations on all tobacco products for the 28-member states.
The TPD had several small votes defeated, like banning slim cigarettes or smaller packages for roll-your-owns. Even though the EU Parliament voted against regulating e-cigarettes as a medical product, they still voted to increase advertisement bans on the products.
Although the EU has not gone to full plain-packaging like Australia, it voted to require that 65% of packaging is covered in graphic images. The theory behind plain-packaging is to reduce the number of people smoking. Plain-packaging is meant to encourage current smokers to quit and discourage young impressionable individuals to take up smoking. While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of plain-packaging, it does present other ramifications.
Plain-packaging is one of the most contentious issues for tobacco companies and proponents of intellectual property alike. With the new TPD, cigarette packages will be 65% covered with either warning text or graphic images of individuals suffering from some smoking related illness. This means that the intellectual property (trademarks and general brand recognition) are completely undermined. The revised TPD also has warning labels positioned at the top of the package. This ostensibly makes it impossible for a consumer to know which brand is which on the display shelves. This further undermines IP rights.
Beyond the IP violations that these new regulations would ensue, plain-packaging also goes against international trade institutions like the World Trade Organization.
Even though the EU has the best of intentions in terms of their health of their citizens, there is little evidence that plain-packaging and increased bans actually deters people from purchasing tobacco from alternate locations, such as black markets. And in fact, it undermines IP rights which so many developed countries rely on for entrepreneurship and innovation.