Australia’s federal government and anti-smoking groups are pushing proposed legislation that is the boldest anti-smoking movement yet seen worldwide. The idea is to force cigarette manufacturers to remove all branding from packaging and sell all cigarettes in matte olive green packets covered with large, graphic images of the damage caused by smoking, such as sickly children and cancer victims. The idea behind this is that smoking will become less appealing and, as a result, people will kick the cigarette habit. But will it work?
Proponents argue that the new laws, which will take effect next January if passed, will reduce the appeal of smoking to young people, thus saving Australian lives and money. Currently, cigarette smoking claims 15,000 lives in Australia each year and smoking-related health care consumes $40.6 billion dollars of taxpayer money. Those who oppose the laws counter that these new measures will not decrease the amount of smokers but will instead cause prices to be lowered, making cigarettes even more accessible to a larger number of people. Supporters of the laws promise that a minimum price limit will be imposed to prevent this from happening.
British American Tobacco Australia, currently the largest cigarette manufacturer in the country, states that the uniform packaging will make it infinitely easier to counterfeit cigarettes and that the market will be flooded with cheap counterfeits, forcing producers to cut prices by as much as half. The illegal cigarette trade grew by 150% last year alone and has been definitively tied to organized crime in the country. Government officials deny this possibility, stating that new anti-counterfeiting design features will protect the legal cigarette market and prevent the market from being flooded by counterfeits.
People involved in the tobacco industry fear that this is a dangerous step toward violating international trademark and intellectual property laws. By removing a company’s ability to rely on corporate image marketing, the government is taking away customer loyalty based on branding. Opponents of the laws fear that the passing of this legislation will open the door to similar laws that will strip brand recognition from many companies.
Retailers have weighed in on the issue as well, arguing that they will be hit with high costs of compliance. They also worry that there will be increased transaction times due to the changes that will impact their business and cause retail rage in customers who have increased wait times.
This legislation will surely have an impact on the way cigarette companies market themselves. Selling cigarettes in uniform packets will eliminate the use of logos and other branding devices that they invested so much in over the years. With all packs the same colour, and small, uniform text stating brand name and large, government approved graphics, the only thing manufacturers seem to be able to compete on is price.
Which means all those million manufacturers invested in branding efforts over the years may all go up in smoke.
Wes Towers is located in Melbourne, Australia and has many years experience working in branding. His company, Omnific Design has successfully worked with a number of large and small businesses.