The World Health Organization to celebrate World No Tobacco Day by promoting policies that cause more smoking
By Drew Johnson
May 28, Washington DC: Tuesday, May 31, marks the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day. The United Nations’ public health arm should spend the day celebrating a 30 percent global reduction in smoking rates over the past 35 years.
Instead, the WHO is marking the occasion by launching an all-out assault against intellectual property rights, freedom, and common sense.
The WHO decided to exploit this year’s World No Tobacco Day to launch an unfounded campaign to lobby governments across the globe to enact ineffective plain packaging schemes.
Plain packaging regulations replace brand-specific tobacco labels – like the red and white Marlboro chevron or Camel’s famous camel and pyramid desert scene – with drab colors, warning labels and shocking images of smoking-related illnesses.
By browbeating nations around the world into adopting plain packaging, the United Nation’s health agency believes it can reduce smoking. The problem is, plain packaging has backfired dramatically where it has been implemented.
In fact, smoking actually increases when plain packaging is enacted.
In 2012, hoping to curb smoking rates, Australia’s government implemented the world’s first plain packaging law. Health officials required tobacco products to be sold in drab greenish-brown packs, with no branding such as logos, colors or symbols.
At least 75 percent of the front, and 90 percent of the back, of cigarette packs in the Land Down Under must be covered with warning labels and graphic images of tobacco-related diseases or illnesses (such as a gangrenous foot or a sickly eyeball).
By stripping tobacco products of their brand identity, the Australians turned the laudable goal of reducing tobacco consumption into a shocking attack on the principles of intellectual property.
Since the plain packaging law prohibits businesses from using their trademarks and kills brand identity, consumers lose the ability to easily identify trustworthy, higher quality, and, potentially, less harmful products. The directive sets a dangerous precedent that may ultimately result in plain packaging regulations for alcohol, candy, soda, fast foods, and anything else nanny-state lawmakers want to scare people away from consuming.
Plain packaging also appears to violate a number of trade agreements and World Trade Organization (WTO) protections on intellectual property rights and branding.
Not surprisingly, the plain packaging directive has landed the Australian government in international court, where a number of concerned countries are embroiled in a WTO dispute in an attempt to repeal the scheme and protect intellectual property rights.
But there’s another problem with plain packaging beyond trampling the brand identity that many companies have worked generations to cultivate: No evidence exists indicating that plain packaging leads to a reduction in tobacco use. In Australia, smoking rates actually increased after implementation plain packaging regulations.
That’s because smokers stopped buying cigarettes based on brand preference. Instead – since cigarettes all look the same – most folks just bought the cheapest cigarettes they could find. Cigarette companies, unable to compete on quality or customer loyalty, engaged in a price war. As a result, prices dropped and smokers could afford more cigarettes.
The number of adult smokers increased for the first time in a generation, and the proportion of teenage smokers increased by 36 percent in the year after plain packaging was introduced.
Australian lawmakers responded by levying one of the world’s steepest tobacco taxes, sending cigarette prices soaring to nearly $20 per pack. Naturally, smokers responded by buying fewer packs or quitting.
Of course, the Australian government would look absolutely foolish if it admitted that its plain packaging scheme was such a failure that it actually caused more people to smoke.
So what did Australian officials do? They lied.
Earlier this year, the Australian Department of Health came out with a long-anticipated report claiming tobacco consumption fell 3.4 percent following the implementation of plain packaging. But those numbers are completely fraudulent, and the health bureaucrats know it. In reality, plain packaging had nothing at all to do with decreased tobacco consumption. Smoking rates only dropped after the massive tax increase made cigarettes unaffordable for many Australians.
Further, the study was published eight full months after it was scheduled to be released – an indication of just how seriously the Australian government took the tall task of burying the truth by tinkering with numbers and fudging outcomes.
The country’s officials knew that if they were honest about the failure of the plain packaging fiasco, it would damage their case in international trade courts – destroying whatever feeble justification they have for steamrolling the intellectual property and trademark rights that serve as a foundation for commerce in the developed world.
The truth would also wreck the WHO’s plan to use Australia as a poster child to inspire other nations to adopt plain packaging. In fact, based on Australia’s fictional “success,” experts predict the WHO will try to mandate plain packaging in the 179 countries involved in the UN’s anti-tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, when delegates convene this November in India.
But now countries are lining up to speak out against the WHO’s plan to enact a global plain packaging scheme since it would likely lead to a worldwide increase in tobacco consumption.
Reducing smoking is a laudable goal. But concocting a plan that assaults intellectual property rights, one of the cornerstones of free society, then trying to cover up that scheme’s failures when it proves disastrous is simply not acceptable.
Plain packaging should not be the focal point of this year’s World No Tobacco Day. If anything, WHO officials should run and hide from the hopeless policy – and the bogus, dishonest attempts to justify Australia’s plain packaging disaster.
The Oslo Times