Global groups attack cigarette pack plan

Eight global trademark and intellectual property rights groups have joined forces to demand that the Government abandons its plans to outlaw branded cigarette packets.

The organisations, mainly based in Europe, are the latest to attack the hard-hitting marketing clampdown and warned that alcoholic drinks could be the next target.

The IP associations claim a ban on all logos, trademarks, colours, designs and graphics on tobacco products — except gruesome images of disease — will take basic ownership rights from the big tobacco firms.

“Basically, plain packaging laws amount to an indirect legislative expropriation of these valuable property rights,” the groups said.

“Even where there is a need to achieve important public objectives such as health, any proposed legislation and/or policy options should not deviate from maintaining an appropriate balance with legitimate intellectual property rights, obtained in respect of lawful products.”

If Health Minister James Reilly’s new law comes into force later this year, tobacco marketing will be virtually banned except for the make or name of the product in a uniform typeface on a plain background.

The aim is to make packets look less attractive, to make health warnings more prominent and to reduce the risk that people, especially children, will be misled about the harmful effects of smoking, the Government has said.

It is expected to be fiercely contested in the courts by tobacco firms.

In a letter to the Government last week, the IP groups said the evidence from Australia, where the marketing ban was first introduced, remained inconclusive.

“It is most unfortunate, and indeed undesirable, that the Irish Government should be proceeding with this legislation at a time when the effectiveness of the Australian plain packaging law is at least uncertain and indeed is being seriously called into question,” they said.

The signatories are: the Association of Trademarks and Designs Rights Practitioners, French-speaking specialists in industrial and intellectual property; the Benelux Trademark Association; Czech Association for Branded Products; the European Communities Trademark Association; the International Chamber of Commerce; Marques, which represents brand owners’ interests; l’Union des Fabricants, the French international property rights group; and Union IP, the union of European practitioners in intellectual property.

They said they were greatly concerned by the move and have continuously expressed their concerns about the laws to European chiefs.

“It cannot be stated often enough that registered trade marks, and the ‘goodwill’ created by their long use on products, are rights of property which are to be treated like any other property,” they said.

The group said these rights were protected under trademark laws and European human rights rules.

The marketing ban in Australia is being challenged by five countries before the World Trade Organisation.


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