Plain packaged cigarettes – a world first

In a world first decision by the High Court of Australia, the big tobacco companies including British American Tobacco, Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco, Van Nelle Tabak Nederland and JT International SA have lost their battle against the introduction of plain tobacco packaging in Australia.

As of December 2012, the government will be able to inforce a ban on all brand marks and logos on tobacco packaging with large graphic health warnings taking their place and a (small) generic font for the manufacturer’s brand name.

Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in Australia – 15,500 deaths per annum representing nearly 12 percent of all deaths. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) had previously set a target to reduce the number of smokers in the Australian population from 17 to 10 percent by 2018. However with smokers becoming desensitized to traditional scare tactics, new strategies were needed to meet the target. Hence back in April 2011 the Australian Federal Government set the motion in place to eliminate any form of brand identity on tobacco products sold both on and offline.

The intention is that by eradicating the prestige, social status and desire to consume these brands that the percentage of Austrlian smokers will be reduced.

There have been countless anti-smoking strategies implemented within Australia including specific social media campaigns, restrictions on advertising, price rises and a restriction on smoking in public places. Written health warnings were introduced as early as 1985, with graphic versions being introduced in 2006. However analysis found that industry branding continued to overpower anti-smoking messaging – the power of branding hey.

The Department of Health and Ageing undertook research to discover the most effective design for plain tobacco packaging. It was determined that colour, typeface, size, brand name and brand positioning all contributed to the attractiveness of the product and appeal for consumers to take up or continue smoking, despite the health risks. It was found that young adults associate tobacco brand names and package design with positive personal characteristics, including social identity and aspirations. A further study by the Cancer Council Victoria found that tobacco packaging that displayed fewer brand elements was perceived to be unfavourable by smokers.

Tobacco companies did attempt to put up a fight, arguing that their packaging was Trademarked and therefore should be protected under the Trademark law. “At the end of the day no one wins from plain packaging except the criminals who sell illegal cigarettes around Australia,” British American Tobocco spokesman, Scott McIntyre, said. However, legal expert Jonathan Liberman rejected this theory.

By removing branding from tobacco packaging, the ability to drive brand identity through logo, colours, fonts, pictures, pacakging materials and shapes will in turn remove brand value and equity from these tobacco giants. It will be interesting to see if and how the tobacco companies will react to keep their brands alive. Of particular interest though will be what sort of an impact this strategy will have on the industry and what other communication strategies will be put in place to reach COAG’s 2018 target.

Sandy Muir 
Director of Brand Projects

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1 Comment

  1. […] As we saw a few months back, the Australian government passed a world first in legislation on the en…. I was interested to see how the tobacco giants would attempt to overcome this or whether they would just lie down in defeat. No one really expected the latter, but for me I struggled to see how they would be able to do anything that would make an impact – well what could they do when their packaging was going to be determined for them? […]

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