TI screams ‘brand theft’ after losing plain packaging fight

23 June 2017:

EU: Plain packaging of tobacco has been implemented in the U.K. and France and the tobacco industry is screaming. Having lost court battles on plain packaging using the intellectual property argument in Australia and the U.K., now the industry is resorting to what sounds like plain emotive shrill.

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) in a special report on EURACTIV’s website claims plain packaging, implemented in France recently, is a “Brussels-led overregulation” that effectively leads to “brand theft”. According to the website, this special report’s   ‘supporter’ is JTI.

Besides losing legal challenges in the courts of these two countries, the industry also lost the WTO (World Trade Organization) challenge filed by 4 countries against Australia’s plain packaging laws. According to news reports, the WTO ruled in favour of Australia’s plain packaging laws as being a legitimate public health measure.

While Britain, France and Hungary went ahead with their legislation on plain packaging, many more countries are following in step. New Zealand just passed plain packaging legislation which are even stronger than Australia. The law comes into force in March 2018 and plain packs will be on the shelves in June 2018. Meanwhile, Canada, Russia and Georgia have started developing their own standardised packaging legislation.

In the ASEAN region, Singapore has started preparation for plain packaging legislation, while Thailand passed legislation this year that includes provision for standardised packaging. The domino effect of plain packaging has begun and yes, the industry is furious that its multi-billion dollar profits is threatened. JTI, the world’s third largest tobacco company, is screaming because it wants to continue minting obscene amounts of profits selling a highly addictive product. Plain packaging helps smokers quit and discourages starters.

JTI’s revenue for 2016 is a staggering US$19.7 Billion – far bigger than the health budget of many of the developing countries it sells its cigarettes in. In the ASEAN region, JTI’s revenue is bigger than the combined annual health budgets of the following countries:

JTI’s ‘brand theft’ scream is diabolical in the face of facts – tobacco claimed 100 million lives in the 20th Century and will claim 1 billion lives in the 21st Century if allowed to. No wonder the Danish Institute for Human Rights advised Philip Morris International to stop producing and marketing tobacco.

Congratulations to Australia, the U. K., France and New Zealand for persevering! ASEAN Governments should stand firm and not be rattled by challenges and threats from the tobacco industry, its lawyers and lobby groups (such as the ASEAN Intellectual Property Association). FCTC Article 13 Guidelines recommends standardised packaging as part of comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising and promotions – to strip away the attractive packaging and show the ugly truth about smoking.