Brand-less Cigarette Labels in Australia

Jul 11, 2011   

On April 28, 2011, the Australian government proposed legislation that will ban tobacco company logos, colors, imagery, or promotional text on cigarette packaging beginning in 2012. Anti-smoking advocates say plain, brand-less labeling will curb smoking by reducing the appeal of the packaging.

Surveys suggest that the Australian government anti-smoking initiatives have significantly reduced smoking rates over the past 30 years. Currently, Australian cigarette warning labels contain graphic depictions of the harmful effects of smoking. The Australian government has also banned the public display of tobacco products in retail stores.

The new legislation, if passed by Parliament, would require cigarettes labels to be dark-olive in color and carry public health warnings instead of company logos. Brand names must appear on the package in the same size and style of print as the health warnings. The proposed labeling has enraged tobacco companies who say it will reduce their profit margins and produce a flood of counterfeit products due to the ease of replication provided by the new labeling.

On June 27, 2011, Hong Kong-based Philip Morris Asia Limited (PMA), owner of the Australian affiliate company, Philip Morris Limited, announced it had served a notice of claim on the Australian government. PMA alleges the new legislation would violate Australias Bilateral Investment Treaty with Hong Kong, which was implemented to protect Hong Kongs investments in Australia. PMA says the treaty protects Hong Kong companies’ property, including intellectual property such as trademarks, and the plain packaging proposal severely diminishes the value of the company’s trademark. The notice of claim commences a three-month period during which the parties will attempt to negotiate an outcome. If there is no agreement, PMA stated it would seek compensation for projected losses.

The current graphics depicted on Australian cigarette packages are similar to those soon to be implemented in the U.S. See our previous report on U.S. graphic cigarette labels here. For more information on regarding the regulation of cigarette labeling, contact Fuerst Ittleman PL at contact@fidjlaw.com.