Australia was warned yesterday that its plan to force tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in plain packaging would set a dangerous precedent on the use of trademarks and other intellectual property.
Under proposed legislation, due to take effect next year, all logos would be removed from cigarette packs, which would have to be a drab olive-green color and be plastered with graphic health warnings.
The big tobacco companies have vowed to fight the move and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) secretary-general Jean-Guy Carrier has sent a letter to Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson outlining his concerns.
“The ability of brand owners to market their product in unique and easily identifiable ways is a core element of a developed society’s protection of intellectual property rights,” ICC spokesman Jeffrey Hardy said in a statement.
“Removing one industry’s ability to use its intellectual property rights opens the door to extend this violation of IP rights to other industries and other brand owners in Australia and around the world,” Hardy said.
Several governments have previously considered and rejected plain packaging as a solution to controlling tobacco use.
The Paris-based ICC said there had been no research and no data to support plain packaging as a deterrent to smoking.
“The proposed regulations undermine the Australian government’s goals of fostering and encouraging the growth of markets for Australian products,” Hardy said. “Australia has been a leading voice in support of IP and rules-based commerce, but the proposed regulations mandating the elimination of trademarks ... is in direct and dangerous conflict with this view.
A survey released yesterday showed most Australians support plain packaging.
Commissioned by the Cancer Council, a poll of 1,200 people found 59 percent approved of the plan while 24 percent disapproved, with the rest non-committal.