Thesis: The U.K.’s recent ban on cigarette pack branding is ineffective in deterring sales and a restriction on competition through the robbery of free-speech.
In recent years, the world has seen an increase in health awareness. New technology and research has allowed people to be more knowledgeable of the detrimental effects of activities such as smoking. Accompanying this knowledge is an increased effort by health agencies all over the world to deter people from smoking cigarettes. On Wednesday, the U.K. parliament banned branding on cigarette packs with a majority vote of 367-113. Currently, cigarette packs are only required to have a small warning on them. The new law will erase the logos and colors of tobacco companies and replace them with graphic images of the effects of smoking. However, the U.K. parliament fails to realize that similar efforts have been ineffective in other countries and even viewed as a violation of tobacco companies’ rights under the First Amendment.
In 2012 Australia was the first country to pass legislation in favor of plain packaging. Since the passing, there have been a myriad of lawsuits in domestic courts regarding the restrictions on branding. An article in Washington post illustrates the displeasure of the tobacco companies:
The companies have mustered an array of arguments in response: that the restrictions violate free speech, “expropriate” the value of carefully created trademarks, go against international free-trade obligations and won’t achieve the intended regulatory aim.
The article also gives insight into the source of the companies’ displeasure by saying:
“Much of this industry is about image. It is not about tobacco,” said Robert Stumberg, a Georgetown University law professor who has followed tobacco litigation and regulation around the world. For tobacco companies, Australia’s rules and similar proposals “get to the heart of their ability to market their products.”
This “[in]ability to market their products” is the exact reason that similar legislation failed to pass in 2013 in the United States. A U.S. court of Appeals decided that the proposed legislation by the FDA was a violation of free-speech rights under the First Amendment. The U.K. ignored this related case and decided to pass legislation of their own regardless. So, has legislation proven to accomplish its goal?
According to this article:
The proposal for plain packs in the UK was intended to reduce the amount of children and teenagers that would ordinarily be drawn to smoking because of branded packaging which can make a cigarette packet seem more attractive.
Australia did not meet this goal. Cigarette sales actually went up 0.3 percent after a year and loose tobacco sales went up 3.4 percent. Hence, it would appear that plain packaging legislation is ineffective. It fails in reducing sales and restricts competition between tobacco companies. The U.K. would be better off coming to a compromise with the companies and allowing them half the package for branding and half for warnings. If that is ineffective in reducing sales, the parliament always has the option of heightening the tax.