Misleading to blame drop in IP Index ranking on plain packaging — Mary Assunta

JUNE 2 — I am responding to the statement by the president of Asean Intellectual Property Association (AIPA) published on May 31, 2016. The WHO World No Tobacco Day’s theme this year was, “Get ready for plain packaging”. On this auspicious day, the AIPA engaged in fear mongering as an attempt to dismiss the benefits of plain packaging to public health.

The AIPA cherry-picked bits of information from the 2016 Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) Index to support their campaign against plain packaging. Such selective reporting amounts to scare mongering and does a disservice to public health.

The AIPA pointed out that Australia scored zero on ‘restrictions on the use of brands, trademarks and trade dress in packaging’ in the 2016 GIPC Index. However they have failed to acknowledge the other areas of intellectual property where Australia scored full points.

Australia scored maximum full points (1 out of 1) for Trademarks term of protection, (1 out of 1) for Ability of trademark owners to protect their trademarks: requisites for protection, and almost full points (0.75 out of 1) for “Legal measures available that provide necessary exclusive rights to redress unauthorized uses of trademarks”.

GIPC Index also lists as Australia’s “Strengths” their achievement in ‘low counterfeiting and piracy rates’ which the AIPA conveniently does not mention. Australia’s achievement in this area demolishes the AIPA’s fear mongering that plain packaging will worsen the tobacco contraband problem in Malaysia.

The 2015 GIPC report mentions that the UK and France (ranking 2nd and 4th respectively) are considering introducing plain packaging legislation, but the ranking of both these countries did not change in the 2016 report. The AIPA’s selective use of information from the GIPC Index is exposed.

Both the UK and France will have plain cigarette packs on their shelves these coming weeks. Many other countries including Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore are moving forward with their plain packaging legislation.

Malaysia was 12th in the 2015 report and dropped to 17th positon in the 2016 report even before Malaysia announcement of plain packaging. This just goes to show plain packaging cannot be blamed, contrary to what the AIPA is trying to establish.

Besides the WHO, the UN has now come out in full support of plain packaging. On May 31, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement saying “On this World No Tobacco Day, I call on Governments around the world to get ready for plain packaging.”

Mr Ban had also pointed out that tobacco diverts valuable household income and that plain packaging reduces the “attractiveness of tobacco products, restricts tobacco advertising and promotion, limits misleading labelling, and increases the effectiveness of health warnings.”

The WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, in her message referred to tobacco packaging as a form of advertising and promotion that often misleads consumers and serves to hide the “deadly reality of tobacco use.” She also said, “We do this for a very good reason: plain packaging works.”

Only the tobacco industry and its representatives keep insisting plain packaging does not work. Tobacco is responsible for 20,000 preventable deaths in Malaysia. Since there is no product recall and tobacco is continued to be sold, plain packaging is the way to go to reduce these preventable deaths.

* Mary Assunta is Senior Policy Advisor of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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