Australia has become the first country in the world to ban the branding of cigarette packages. From next July, all packs will look like the one in the picture--they will be a deliberately unappealing olive green color, the brand of the manufacturer will be printed in a tiny, generic font (i.e. no trademarks) and the only images will be graphic health warnings. Thus the Australians are setting up an interesting, real world packaging test. What will happen when the new, generic packaging hits the shelves?
The one thing that the government and the cigarette manufacturers agree on is that the impact will be significant. Given previous bans on advertising, sponsorships and other forms of marketing communication, the pack is the last bastion of branding activity. Health Minister Nicola Roxon says that she believes the new law will give Australia the best chance of having the lowest smoking rate in the world.
Manufacturers, for their part, have threatened legal action on the basis that the new rules restrict their trademark and intellectual property rights. The British American Tobacco Australia (BATA) issued a statement which said: "The result of BATA's legal challenges could force Health Minister Nicola Roxon to pay tobacco companies billions of dollars for the
removal of trademarks, brands and pack space."
Assuming these legal challenges fail and the law goes into effect, what will happen? Will demand go down as expected? Not according to the cigarette manufacturers. They are actually predicting that demand will go up because they will be forced to compete on price. David Crow, CEO of BATA, says that's what his company intends to do: "We will obviously focus on pricing given it's the only thing really left to differentiate brands."
So could the unintended consequence of the legislation be that smoking actually increases because the market is flooded with cheap cigarettes? The cigarette manufacturers have an obvious interest in coming up with worst-case scenarios but this one does seem to have some merit.