Guest article: Institute of Economic Affairs
Plain confectionery packaging a heavy-handed response to health concerns
‘Plain packaging’ is a policy which eliminates all branding and visual design elements on products and forces manufacturers to use state-mandated colors and typefaces to create homogenized packaging with no differentiating features.
Plain packaging is currently only applied to tobacco products in a handful of countries worldwide, but if health activists have their way that will change.
It is becoming clear that health activists have a broader agenda to use the ‘tobacco playbook’ in their efforts to apply extreme regulations to other sectors.
Plain packaging threat
Campaigners in Australia have called for plain packaging of children’s toys on the grounds that existing packaging encourages gender stereotyping.
With governments such as the UK passing tobacco-style ‘sin taxes’ on soft drinks and discussing tobacco-style advertising bans on fast food, we must wonder if the day will come when they demand tobacco-style packaging laws as well?
The governments of Australia, the UK, France, New Zealand and Norway have all passed legislation enforcing plain packaging on tobacco products, and signs indicate that confectionery will soon follow.
Already, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has targeted confectionery for stronger regulatory measures.
The Ontario Medical Association has already begun designing plain packaging for pizza boxes and soft drinks, replacing company logos with photos of diseased livers and gangrenous feet.
Fortunately, some governments are fighting the slippery slope that plain packaging represents.
Indonesia and the Dominican Republic have filed a lawsuit against Australia with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and a lively debate has erupted in anticipation of the verdict.
If the WTO rules in favor of Australia, it potentially clears the way for other governments to implement similar laws and could redefine the intellectual property rights of consumer brands in other sectors such as Cadbury, Coca-Cola and Mars.
Neither side of the argument denies that very high levels of sugar consumption increase the risk of obesity and everyone is agreed on the need to look for solutions to diabetes and heart disease, but to strip a business of its valuable trademarks is neither a proportionate nor effective way to go about it.
[Background reading: Mars wrote to the UK government in 2012 to express concerns on plain packaging laws spreading to food.]
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