Plain packaging: Five years of failure! — IDEAS

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MARCH 23 — “Five Years of Failure!” That’s the message a global coalition of 62 think tanks and rights advocates are sending to the new WHO Director Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus in reference to the plain packaging policy the organisation continues to promote.

Five years ago, Australia became the first country to fully implement plain packaging by denying all trademark usage rights for tobacco products. The policy is intended to reduce the appeal of tobacco as an effort to discourage people from smoking.

Instead of an acceleration in the reduction of smoking, the Australian government’s own report notes that the two-decade steady decline actually stopped.

Another number has increased, the share of illicit tobacco consumption has grown from 11.5 per cent to 14 per cent in Australia. Not only does this represent a tax revenue loss of nearly A$2 billion (RM6.05 billion), it represents a market carve out to criminal gangs and terrorists. In France, another plain packaging country, the illicit trade in cigarettes has been linked to jihadists traveling to Syria and Iraq, as well as attacks in Paris.

Despite clear evidence that the policy has had enormous unintended consequences the World Health Organisation continues to promote it as part of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The global coalition supporter Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) wants Dr Ghebreyesus to know one thing: Property rights should not be infringed.

The letter states “even if plain packaging were effective, it should still be repealed, as rights are inalienable and should not be discarded for political purposes.”

The global coalition proposes that the WHO protect intellectual property rights as “the innovation incentive created by trademarks fuels competition and produces amazing products demanded by consumers like affordable medical advances that save lives” and that “any loophole should be closed, not exploited.”

It is clear from Argentina to Venezuela, and from the United States to Hong Kong the global coalition wants the WHO and governments around the world “to stop infringing on intellectual property rights with plain packaging policies.”

The full open letter can be found here

* IDEAS is a Malaysian think-tank dedicated to promoting market-based solutions to public policy challenges.

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

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