KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 25 — Putrajaya’s plan to introduce generic packaging for tobacco products will infringe on Malaysia’s obligations under several international agreements, tobacco companies said today.
The Confederation of Malaysian Tobacco Manufacturers (CMTM) comprising British American Tobacco (Malaysia) Berhad, JT International Berhad and Philip Morris (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd also warned the government that enforcing plain packaging on tobacco products could have far-reaching implications on the use of trademarks and intellectual property rights in other industries.
“Therefore, extreme and unproven measures such as plain packaging should not be introduced,” CMTM said in a statement.
“Adopting excessive measures like plain packaging significantly jeopardises Malaysia’s strong standing as an investment destination and sends the wrong message to businesses. Following Australia’s introduction of this policy, the Global Intellectual Property Centre downgraded that country’s rating on the Intellectual Property index, citing plain packaging as the reason for this,” the tobacco companies added.
The Health Ministry told Malay Mail Online earlier this week that Malaysia was planning to implement plain packaging for tobacco products, where colours and fonts would be standardised to reduce brand recognition.
According to plain packaging laws in Australia that were introduced in December 2012, tobacco company logos on cigarette packets are outlawed and the packets are a dull brown colour dominated by large graphic images of smoking-related diseases, with the brand name in standardised font.
CMTM did not specify which international treaties signed by Malaysia would purportedly be violated by plain packaging policies for cigarettes.
Tobacco has been carved out from the investor-state dispute systems (ISDS) provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement that Malaysia has signed, which would protect tobacco control laws from legal challenges by corporations, according to the Health Affairs blog.
According to UK paper the Guardian, Philip Morris failed last December in its lawsuit against the Australian government to challenge the country’s plain packaging laws that the tobacco giant said had breached an Australian bilateral trade agreement with Hong Kong.
CMTM claimed that based on data from the Australian government, more cigarettes were sold in Australia in the first 12 months of the plain packaging policy than in the previous year.
“Together with excise increases, plain packaging has also resulted in a massive increase in branded illegal cigarettes – further demonstrating the policy’s lack of effectiveness,” said CMTM.
“CMTM therefore has serious concerns about the potential for plain packaging to further increase the alarming level of illegal cigarettes trade in Malaysia, which already account for approximately 35 per cent of the overall market.
“The government’s focus should instead be on further addressing the rampant illegal cigarettes trade rather than on introducing ineffective policies that are likely to make the situation worse,” added the tobacco companies.
The Petaling Jaya Coffeeshop Association (PJCA), which has over 1,000 members in the Klang Valley, said separately that plain packaging for tobacco products would hurt businesses more than reduce smoking rates.
“There are many other measures that can be taken to address smoking, rather than take measures that would seriously impact our operations,” PJCA president Cheah Poo Kuang said in a statement.
“If the MOH is serious about addressing smoking, the contraband issue needs to be tackled first and not introduce more regulations that the contraband cigarettes manufacturers will not comply [with],” he added, referring to the Health Ministry.