Australia is set to mandate that beginning in July 2012, all cigarettes sold in that country are in plain, olive-drab, nondescript packages, with the brand names in simple font. Big tobacco has complained that the plain packaging removes their intellectual property rights, their logos and designs that so many smokers associate with their brand of cigarettes. They also complain that they can’t possibly redesign the packs in time for the July 1st start date, and that the plain packaging will allow counterfeiters and smugglers to flood the market with cheaper cigarettes. They even threatened to throw a tantrum and flood the market themselves if plain packaging becomes the norm.
First, redesigning the packs shouldn’t be that difficult. I’ve seen pictures of the “plain” packs, they are all over the internet. It’s not like you have to create a new logo and then do market research to see if it will sell to your target consumers. Australia has already done the work for you. They have specified the color, the font, the warning labels, and have even provided you with nice pictures of diseased lungs and cancer riddled mouths for you to use as the artwork.
Second, the argument that smugglers will flood the market with cheap cigarettes doesn’t sit well either because it is happening now. Six retailers in Australia are being sued by a tobacco company for selling counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco. New packaging may just work in the tobacco companies favor as it may be more difficult for counterfeiters to get that special “olive-drab” color just right to pass as the real thing. You can’t pass off cigarettes packaged for Australia in another country. Of course, the tobacco company is concerned because smuggled cigarettes are costing the Australian economy $1.1 billion in lost tobacco excise revenue. According to the tobacco companies, lower taxes would cure this problem. It’s nice they are concerned about the country’s welfare while their product is killing the consumers who generate those revenues.
The CEO of British American Tobacco has already gone on record threatening to flood the market with cheaper cigarettes. Since his threat is on the internet, can Australia sue BAT for their illegal action against trade in that country if it happens? And won’t flooding the market with cheap smokes work against big tobacco by cutting into their profits? BAT has also threatened to sue the government if they are forced to remove branding from the packets. The brand name will still be on the packet, right underneath the pictures of black, tar-filled lungs, and gangrene toes from poor circulation due to smoking. It wouldn’t be nice to make the consumer guess at which tobacco company is responsible for their poor health.
Quit your tantrums, tobacco companies, and pull yourself up off the floor. You have some work in front of you. Get going!