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Battle lines are drawn: this is the mother of all fights

November 10th, 2011 Posted in Economics, Nannying, Personal Freedom by

A huge chunk of the corporate world will be taking a very sharp intake of breath right now as it is announced that Australia is to become the first country to seek to strip private legal companies of their trademarks. 

The Australian government has today effectively passed a bill that will mean from December next year, all cigarettes will be sold in olive green packs, with no trademark brand logos permitted on any packaging. Companies will be able to print their name and the cigarette brand in small, prescribed font on the packets together with stark health warning messages and pictures, which will cover 75% of the front of the pack and 90% of the back.

Tobacco companies have vowed to fight the new legislation in court. And rightly so. Can you imagine Coca Cola allowing the shiny red can and swirly brand name to be removed and replaced by an olive green can, with warnings of addiction and early death plastered all over it, without challenge? Or Cadbury giving up its purple bars of loveliness, or Tanqueray its distinctive green bottles without a fight? No I don’t think so. They would rightly argue that their branding is about product differentiation and brand share, that they have invested millions in their trademarks and will challenge any body – including governments – that seek to take that away.

And whilst once the fast food, confectionery and drinks industry stood as far away from the tobacco industry as they possibly could (with fingers crossed muttering quietly “please not us next, please not us next”). “The times they are a changin”.

Taxation, the original weapon of choice of Governments seeking to discourage tobacco consumption, returns increasingly to the alcohol industry, and  is now the insidious stick with which to beat the food industry (think Danish fat tax).

Nor will it stop at just tax. Where health lobby groups have succeeded with tobacco – so they will follow for alcohol, fast food, chocolate and every other indulgence we enjoy.    We already see that great old anti-smoking chestnut- the cost to the NHS -appearing with increasing frequency …  “the cost of obesity to NHS”  or the “£3bn cost of alocohol to NHS every year” .

So too have the scare tactics – the headlines that  get ever more hysterical … the “obesity pandemic“… “Fatty foods Addictive like Cocaine“… “Binge drinking on the rise” (never mind that according to the governments own statistics, alcohol consumption is actually falling).

We are already see signs of anti-tobacco-style attacks on food distribution ( health lobby groups arguing for a ban on siting of “fast food outlets” near educational facilities) and advertising (Diane Abbott’s criticism of Coca Cola and McDonalds sponsoring the Olympic Games) etc.

So sure as night follows day  it’s only a matter of time before it will become “widely accepted” that many of our pleasures and indulgences are in fact wicked evil addictive substances and that we are not responsible consumers but the” hapless and the exploited” that need protecting for our own sakes.

It’s a tiny step from there to the decision that it’s the branding of the fizzy drink, bottle of booze, bar of chocolate, or burger that’s the problem – and stripping away the trademark, packaging design and strap line – is not just desirable but necessary.

And whereas now we have politicians stating “If this legislation stops one young (Australian) from picking up a shiny, coloured packet and prevents them becoming addicted to cigarettes then in my view it will have been worthwhile,” we we soon hear them saying this instead…

If this legislation stops one young (Australian) from picking up a shiny, red tin of Coca Cola  and prevents them becoming addicted to fizzy drinks then in my view it will have been worthwhile” .

And the consequences of travelling blindly down this health evangelist’s path will be brands competing on price, not quality, not health; a duller, less imaginative and exciting world; counterfeiting criminal gangs having a field day; and we the people accepting that we know nothing about anything and that “Government knows best”. When we all have Soviet style cola rationed to us by our “benign” governments we can all praise them and thank them for saving us from ourselves.

I am sure that we all ate more vegetables in the Middle Ages -and probably in Soviet Russia too-  they are just not ages I want to return to, nor regimes I wish to live under. There is an alternative. We can say NO MORE. This is a line in the that has been crossed…Companies have rights. People’s pensions and life-savings are tied up in these companies and their brands. Trademarks can’t be dismissed on a whim.  Intellectual Property Rights can’t be casually cast aside.  And perhaps most importantly …We are adults – not children. And we whilst we say yes to informed choice, education, and help to those who want it…we say no state control.

THIS is a battle that we cannot allow tobacco to lose.

12 Responses to “Battle lines are drawn: this is the mother of all fights”

  1. ChrisB Says:

    Whilst taking away branding from all that is different politicians retain the right to brand themselves as something other than clones of an incestuous political elite.

  2. Leslie K. Clark Says:

    In many ways I think Paul Calf was a political soothsayer:

    “One day you’re just gonna buy a pack of fags and it’s just gonna say, ‘You are a c*nt!'”

  3. chessnuts Says:

    Though I completely agree with this article and we’re already ourselves going down that slippery slope and the only way to end it is to completely reverse it rather than making a few tweaks here and there, I have a couple issues.
    For one, companies don’t have rights, our rights don’t come in groups, it is people who have rights. This is a prohibition of someone’s right to express themselves (of free speech) and purchase whatever they want at whatever price they want.
    Also, there are better arguments against these legislations than intellectual property rights, which are completely illegitimate if it’s not propected voluntarily but through copyright act.

  4. Dick Puddlecote Says:

    Top article, Angela, and with precisely the correct tone.

    Too many are blithely ignorant of the threat that this proposal signals to their own freedom of choice. For years, seat belt laws were regularly cited to justify iliberal legislation in a number of areas, nowadays tobacco control measures are increasingly held up as an example of how other products should be regulated.

    If this precedent is set, it’s open season on any company which manufactures products government disapproves of.

    BTW, Australia is already considering the ‘next logical step’ after plain packaging, and it’s even more sinister than this since it directly attacks personal free will. I’ll write about it later if I get time.

  5. Chris Says:

    Very well put Angela. The bloated public health industry will need ever increasing sustenance and once even the spineless drones who claim to represent us work out that there is little further mileage in tobacco, nothing will be safe.

    Inconvenient facts and the reasonable attempts at compromise by industries will be overwhelmed by the ignorant self serving evangelism of the public health lobbyists allied to the raw ambition of people like Julia Gillard and Nicola Sturgeon. Honesty, decency and integrity are values that are alien to these people as has been amply and repeatedly demonstrated with respect to tobacco. The sordid, dishonest nature of that campaign offers little hope for the future.

    Based on track record, we can no doubt look forward to the parliamentary Liberal Democrat party voting en masse for plain packaging of fizzy pop in the not too distant future.

  6. Geoffrey Payne Says:

    I do not know how the debate on this issue went in Australia, but this looks a good policy to me. If it has the effect in reducing cigarette consumption, then we should have the same policy here.
    The consumer continues to have the freedom to buy and smoke cigarettes, but will be better informed of the consequences of doing so.
    Cigarettes are addictive and addiction makes free choice much harder. Many people say they want to give up cigarettes but find it very hard to do so.
    Once the addiction has gone, that person then has more freedom. So although the policy might appear to reduce freedom, in this case for companies to market their products the way they would like, it will have the net impact of creating more freedom. And personally I prefer the freedom of the individual even at the expense of that of the corporation.
    The best policy would be to encourage teenagers not to get addicted in the first place, but no one has worked out an effective way of doing that yet.

  7. Angela Says:

    Geoffrey Wow…. Are you reallly serious? My god I dont know where to start – you’re a lib dem – we may have different views about economics …but freedom …really? You’re in favour of nanny state imposed freedom ?.. Is that true of all SLF or just a personal opinion? I guess you are furious with the Lib Dem drugs policy agreed at conference too.. That’s reallly sad. I dread to thnk what your policy proposal will look like when the state accepts that chocolate and fizzy drinks are addictive…. No wonder people are confused about the Lib Dems..

  8. Chris Says:


    There is absolutely no indication that this policy will have any impact on cigarette consumption at all. As public health policies have become increasingly illiberal, their measurable impact has diminished. The much vaunted 2006 health act here in the UK for example has had produced no tangible health benefits and has had no significant impact on cigarette consumption or the number of people smoking.

    It is disingenuous to say that people will still have the freedom to purchase and smoke cigarettes in the face of legislation that deliberately sets out to stigmatize and restrict both those activities. I also fail to see how plain packaging will better inform anyone about anything.

    Your argument relating to personal freedom is illiberal in that you advocate state intervention in lawful individual behaviour on the basis that it is in what the state sees as being in the interests of the individuals concerned. The defence that many people would like to adopt the behaviour that the state advocates might be more effective if we understood whether people want to give up a pleasurable activity because they are concerned about its health impact or whether they want to do so as a consequence of relentless pressure from the state and an escalating campaign of “denormalization.”

    To create an environment through years of legislation that de-normalizes a lawful activity and intimidates those who partake in it is questionable government from a liberal perspective, to then push for further legislation on the basis that those thus intimidated say they really would like to conform is more appropriate to a soviet style dictatorship than a liberal democracy.

    With the greatest of due respect, you appear to be in the wrong political party.

  9. Junican Says:

    @ GP
    Oh dear…here we go again…stinks, addiction, children, NHS….
    The first thing that I do in a morning is make a cup of tea. The first thing that I do after a journey is make a cup of tea. I constantly make cups of tea. I will accept that I am addicted to nicotine if you accept that Tea is also addictive.
    But here is the important thing. What right have you to deny me, a grown up adult person, the right to be addicted to tea, coffee, nicotine, chocolate, salt, beer, etc, etc, if I wish to be so addicted? I have, and wish to continue to have, the right to enjoy my addictions. they are lovely. If and when I wish to cease these addictions, I will do so. I neither need nor want your help.
    But smoking is not an addiction. It is a habit. What makes this habit difficult to break is that it is a habit which applies in many different situations and is all day long. But the habit does apply in all circumstances. This is why one can go to bed and sleep all night long without waking up desperate for a fag; this is why one can used not having a fag in airports and aircraft, and not being bothered by it.
    As for freedom, I cannot believe that a person in GP’s position can believe what he says. Was it not the communists who tried to destroy the catholic church in Poland for exactly the same reasons – to ‘free’ the people from the dogma of religion and thus give them greater freedom?
    No….this Geoffrey Payne must be an impostor.

  10. Junican Says:

    Oopst! Second line of third para…”But the habit does NOT apply in all circumstances”.

  11. Chris Says:

    Geoffrey is for real Junican. I think it is reasonable to say that he is on the left of his party. He doesn’t like free markets or economic liberalism, is a fan of “The Spirit Level” and thinks that obesity levels are a measure good in a society. I think it unfair to suggest that he is insincere he simply believes that your freedom from addiction is more important than your freedom to choose your addiction so illiberal means are justified in forcing you to accept a “better“ freedom. Here he is explaining how being illiberal can produce a liberal outcome in his own unique way:

    “Generally speaking ruthlessness is associated with authoritarianism, which of course is the antithesis of lliberalism. It is not always wrong however. A child runs towards a busy road, then you stop it physically. You could say the means are illiberal, but the ends are liberal. It is a dangerous course, but justified in an emergency where there are no other realistic alternatives.”

    I would say that Geoffrey has a mostly coherent position on this subject but that position is inconsistent with most people’s understanding of liberalism and more in line with the thinking of far left social democrats. He might feel at home in Sweden but, on the subject of tobacco legislation, even the Swedes had the compassion to allow smoking rooms in bars and the good sense to defy the EU and keep SNUs legal. So maybe not Sweden.

    You be careful of that road Junican!

  12. Junican Says:

    I know that it is some days ago now, but I have been busy in other ways.
    ‘Omne comparitudo claudicat’, Chris. I am NOT a child running into a busy road. If Mr Payne confined his attention to vulnerable children, then there would be no problem – except, of course, his attentions would need to be directed to vulnerable children. Those children would be children who have been scientifically found to be susceptible to horrible diseases from tobacco smoke. If he could find JUST ONE, I would be very surprised. And if he could find JUST ONE, he would have to give his attention to THAT ONE, and not to the rest who are not vulnerable.