"Plain Packaging" Legislation Yet Another Policy Bungle

Just like Pink Batts and School Halls, the Federal Government rushed out another policy without thinking about it – and it will cost taxpayers big.

This “plain packaging” legislation is yet another policy bungle. There are already multiple lawsuits against it, and our taxes will bail out the government – again!

The government spin doctors have been frantically putting out propaganda to confuse Australians. But here are the facts:

  1. It won’t cut smoking: There is no credible evidence that plan will lead to a decrease in smoking. None.  Zero. In fact, the government commissioned a study on this – but put out the policy without waiting for the results!  All packaging does is  does is help inform consumers which product they choose between competitors.  If anything, stripping branding can make a product more attractive due to the ‘rebel’ factor: illicit drugs are plain packaged. AND, by denying companies to compete on the basis of logo/trademark differentiation, consumers will differentiate products more on price. As such, some cigarette manufacturers choosing to compete on the basis of price, leading to a fall in tobacco prices and therefore might have the counter-intuitive effect of increasing tobacco consumption.

  2. Australia already has some of the most draconian restrictions on tobacco products in the world. These include prohibition on tobacco advertising & sponsorship, display bans and graphic health warnings occupying 30% of the front of a cigarette pack, and 90% of the back of the pack. Does anyone think if this hasn’t stopped anyone smoking that a plain pack will?

  3. It violates intellectual property rights: The right to own and enjoy property is a fundamental part of rights of people and referred to as an extension of human rights. This does not only apply to physical property, but also intellectual property, and is critical to economic development, and an important guarantee of freedom. The protection of trademarks, defined by the WTO as “a distinctive sign which identifies certain goods or services as those produced or provided by a specific person or enterprise.” is a vital part of protecting intellectual property rights. By denying tobacco companies their right to use their trademark to identify their product, this Bill strikes at the very core principles of corporate identity and consumer information that the Australian economy is based upon. As such, it not only violates the legal rights of the companies affected, but furthermore sets a very dangerous principle for the future of a government unwilling to honour or respect intellectual property right

  4. It will increase tobacco smuggling: Intellectual Property Rights and Trademarks are one of the strongest protections we have against counterfeit goods, and by violating them we are giving an open door to smugglers.: According to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, there are an  estimated 600 billion counterfeited and smuggled cigarettes crossing national borders each year with severe consequences -  people die as a result of the illegal cigarette trade just as they do as a result of drug and human trafficking, and tobacco smuggling has also been found to directly finance terrorism. Furthermore, a 2003 report by the BBC noted that counterfeit cigarettes contain 75% more tar,  28% more nicotine and about 63% more carbon monoxide than genuine cigarettes – leading to worsening health outcomes.

  5. It is unconstitutional: This is what is before the High Court at the moment. As anyone who has seen The Castle will know, the Australian Constitution specifically prohibits the acquisition of property by the Commonwealth, except on “just terms”. Forbidding the use of a trademark, which is legally considered property, can be seen as an expropriation of the property right’s with no compensation or “just terms” provided - a fact previously denied yet the bill now contains provisions as to what will happen when the government loses – they know they are acting against the constitution!  And who’ll pick up the bill? The taxpayer.

  6. It violates international law. There are multiple international lawsuits against our government for this bungle. As the Executive Director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance detailed in a senate submission for the Property Rights Alliance,  this proposal violates numerous international treaties that Australia has signed, including the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, the Paris Convention, The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, and the Australia- U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Australia has signed these conventions, received great benefits from them, and,  as such, must abide by them. We will lose these lawsuits – and taxpayers will pay billions. Smokers already pay MORE than their fair share. Our tobacco taxes – some of the highest in the region – more than compensate for any associated health costs.

  7. It will kill jobs: At a time our economy is in a seriously fragile state, this proposal  poses a serious threat to numerous jobs in small and medium-sized enterprises throughout the supply chain, such as graphics designers and paper producers. And, its been shown to add up to 45 seconds for each person at the checkout queue – this adds up!

  8. It is yet another big-government, nanny state regulation, that won’t stop here.  A free society means we can make choices, and accept risk and responsibility for our actions. Treating people as victims who can’t make decisions for themselves is not only immoral, but sets a dangerous precedent for alcohol, food, and anything else the government deems ‘unhealthy’. In England, they are already looking at plain packaging for alcohol! Where will it end!

The government needs to stop telling businesses how to sell their legal products and let individuals make their own decisions about their lives.

(The Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance receives no funding from any tobacco company)

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