Powerful US lobby group fights cigarette packaging changes

Business federation concerned about what it calls State’s ‘proposed destruction of trademark and branding rights’

The influential Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America in Washington has joined the lobbying campaign against proposals by the Department of Health to ban tobacco advertising on cigarette packets.

The powerful lobby group joins other business interests resisting the proposed change, including employer representative Ibec and the Law Society.

In a letter obtained by The Irish Times, the world’s largest business federation with three million business members said it had “deep concerns” about what it called the State’s “proposed destruction of trademark and branding rights in the tobacco sector”.

Writing to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children which is considering the issue, Myron A Brilliant, its head of international affairs, said earlier this month: “We do not believe this initiative is well founded and we urge it to be reconsidered.”


Trademark protection
"The notion that the Irish Government is contemplating measures that would destroy any industry's legitimate and legally sanctioned trademark protection and branding causes concern in the US business community and extends into many different sectors of our membership."

Mr Brilliant warned the State that Australia's decision to introduce non-branded packaging for cigarettes was "being litigated in the World Trade Organisation and a number of governments are challenging that measure on the grounds that it violates WTO agreements in relation to IP [intellectual property] and technical barriers to trade."

The chamber also said it believed that research showed Australia’s move to ban branded packaged had “no impact on overall smoking rates” and “increased substantially” illicit smuggling.

In its submission, Ibec said it feared that aspects of the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2013 would have “substantial negative consequences well beyond the sector directly concerned and affects owners of intellectual property”.

It said the legislation would “send an immediate signal to foreign countries and investors about the standard of IP protection in Ireland”.

Plain packaging
The Law Society said it believed plain packaging would lead to Ireland being sued by cigarette manufacturers, challenges before the WTO and more counterfeit tobacco products.

It also claimed “a perception that Ireland is no longer a country that protects intellectual property with a consequent knock-on effect for foreign direct investment”.

The Association of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys, an international lobby group, said the impact of plain packaging could go far beyond the tobacco industry and could set a “precedent” for other areas “such as sugar, soft drinks, alcohol, fast food etc”.