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June 12, 2014

Ireland Plain Packaging Regulation Misguided, Harmful

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This week, Ireland’s government has approved legislation to force companies to comply with plain packaging regulations for tobacco products. It will make Ireland the first country in the European Union to make the move, and third in the world, behind Australia and New Zealand. 

IPI sent a letter in December to Ireland’s Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation  Minister, Richard Bruton, in which Tom Giovanetti voiced his concern with the regulations, calling them misguided and harmful for the following reasons:

  • A plain packaging requirement would represent government destruction of intellectual property, and reflects an incomplete understanding of the function of trademarks in an economy.
  • A plain packaging requirement is a clear violation of not one but several international agreements to which Ireland is a signatory.
  • The proposed plain packaging regulation sets a harmful and misguided precedent which would inevitably be extended to other types of products.
  • The proposed plain packaging regulation will inevitably lead to an increase in counterfeit tobacco products, which by their very nature escape regulatory compliance. (Read the Independent’s report here with the warning that it “will be significantly easier now that all tobacco products are intended to be sold in the same generic packaging.”

Giovanetti writes:

"Plainly, governments have an interest in the protection of public health, and this most certainly includes encouraging cessation from smoking--the leading cause of preventable disease and death in most countries. But it’s important that governments pursue proven means of reducing smoking that do not infringe on individual rights, and especially important that governments not adopt policies that, while unproven at discouraging smoking, will almost certainly cause other unintentional harms.

"Recent data suggests that smoking rates in the United States have dropped below 18 percent, an all-time low. Smoking rates in the United States have consistently dropped year-over-year since 1965, when the U.S. smoking rate was 42.4 percent. These encouraging gains have been made through a combination of public educational campaigns, warning messages, taxation and regulation. But the United States never negated the intellectual property rights of tobacco companies by effectively seizing their trademarks through any sort of plain packaging requirement."

According to the Irish Times, a spokesman for Ireland’s oldest tobacco manufacturer also said the Australian plain packaging regulations have actually failed to curb the use of tobacco products.

“There has been no impact on legal tobacco volumes in Australia, illicit tobacco sales have increased, and the steady decline in tobacco consumption that Australia had experienced in recent years has actually eased, not increased, since the introduction of plain packaging.” 

Giovanetti also raises the question in his letter regarding whether Ireland values its freedom of speech enough that it should restrict the rights of companies that sell a legal product from communicating freely in the marketplace.

“One of the best indications of a free society is whether or not the society trusts its ability to process information freely communicated within the marketplace.”

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