Will Australia buck the Marlboro cowboy in the end
The Marlboro cowboy and his stablemates could be in for a rough ride in the coming months as the Australian government enacts new laws that will require tobacco companies to remove the branding from their cigarette packs and replace them with disturbing images of gap toothed mouths, diseased lungs and anaemic children: the ugly legacy of smoking related cancers on a bland olive green box.The tobacco giant Philip Morris, is understandably alarmed, not least because this is no maverick steer that is threatening to gore them, but an out and out stampede: New Zealand, Canada, the European Union and Britain are all considering introducing similar plain packaging laws. More importantly, Australia is just a wee bit too close to some of those emerging markets that the tobacco industry is looking to exploit.So far the tobacco lobby has been pretty robust – with a threat to sue the Australian government for projected losses at the end of June, and by running a TV campaign asking Australians if they want to live under a ‘nanny state’?You can see where the Australian government is coming from, and as a non-smoker myself I’m all in favour of measures designed to protect the public health – especially the health of children in emerging countries that possibly don’t have the advertising standards and safeguards that we do. But are our Australian friends breaking the law to make the law – riding roughshod over the legal rights of tobacco companies?Certainly Philip Morris would – and do – say so. They say the proposed legislation would infringe international trademark and intellectual property law. They also point out It would also prevent them from distinguishing their product from that of their rivals, destroying brands that have taken them over 40 years to establish.To play Devil’s advocate, there’s also a whiff of hypocrisy about governments – including our own – who are prepared to enact law against tobacco companies but are happy to go on creaming off substantial amounts from them in purchase tax.Two wrongs don’t make a right, and I suspect that will be the burden of Philip Morris’ legal action, should it come to that. On the other hand, Jurgen Kurtz, director of international investment law at the University of Melbourne, says that if the claim is heard, the government could win on the grounds that the legislation was designed to protect public health.Either way, both sides are agreed on the power of branding, for good or bad, as endorsement or stigmatisation. And whilst all seems to have been quiet in the headlines for the last couple of weeks, the stage is set for a battle of the brands that promises to make marketing history.