The FINANCIAL -- Planned legislation that has been started with plain packaging for tobacco might become widespread and even extend to wine, soft drinks and junk food in the future, as Lorenzo Montanari, Executive Director of Property Rights Alliance, explained to The FINANCIAL.
Georgia is about to implement even more severe regulations for tobacco companies. According to the planned legislation they might not have the right to advertise anymore; tobacco might not be allowed to be sold in many places; smokers won’t be able to smoke in public places; and the industry will generally be isolated. Tobacco companies might not have the right to use their logo and brand identity anymore, if the plain packaging part of the law becomes accepted. A general law on tobacco control was passed in 2003, but it didn’t cause any significant changes. That’s why parliament is discussing new, stricter regulations for the tobacco industry. The FINANCIAL held an interview with the Executive Director of Property Rights Alliance, Lorenzo Montanari, who didn’t hide his concern about the new regulations.
“We are really worried about the new regulations,” Montanari commented. “Plain packaging - removing all signs of the brand from the packaging of cigarettes - is a direct attack on the trademark system. The first plain packaging was implemented in Australia in 2012. We were against it and criticized it of course. As a reaction to that we have already published an International Coalition letter against plain packaging. We collected more than 40 think tank signatures from around the world; New Economic School is also amongst them. We claim that if one wants to reduce smokers’ numbers then that’s fine, but it can be done in another way, for example educational campaigns can help. The countries that have approved the law on plain packaging, for example France and Ireland, are also considering moving on to another sector, like wine, soft drinks, junk food, etc. I want to say that it is not about the tobacco itself, we care about the trademark. This is our mission because it’s intellectual property.”
Q. At present, in terms of Georgia, does it only affect the tobacco sector?
A. It has started with tobacco. It is very easy to attack this sector. In Thailand and Indonesia for example they have already started to talk about plain packaging in the wine sector too. The point is to think about the Georgian wine producer. At the moment Georgian wine is famous throughout the world. Local producers have invested so much money in building brand identity. Imagine what would happen if they weren’t able to show their label. I have heard that the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Finance, and even the Prime Minister of Georgia are against it. If parliament decides to implement the new law, what will happen hereafter to Georgia wine? This is the point we are strongly criticizing.
Since we analyzed the 128 country index, Georgia held 90th place. In terms of the legal political environment Georgia is not performing too badly. By registration of property Georgia is the best country in the world. The problem in Georgia is the protection of intellectual property rights. In this case we discovered the score is 2.4 - the lowest in our ranking. A policy like plain packaging will not help to improve the protection of intellectual property. I had the pleasure to speak to the Chairman of Sakpatenti. He is against this new regulation about plain packaging. We want to collaborate with them also.
Q. Can you tell us more about the experience of foreign countries which have already implemented the law?
A. The Australia National Drug strategy household survival has shown that in 2014 the daily smoking use rate was 2.5 and 1 year after the implementation was 3.4. Plus, according to the dates, afterwards a 20% increase of contraband cigarettes can be seen. Since there is no trademark it’s very easy to fake, they don’t need to reproduce the logo of the brand or label.
Even if plain packaging will reduce the number of smokers, we are still against it, because of the policy being against the principle of the trademark. I have seen interesting research by IPM. According to it, 81% of Georgians don’t have information about plain packaging. 54% of Georgians think that it will simplify the reproduction of fake cigarettes.
The Georgian Government is doing everything to make Georgia the best performing in terms of economic freedom. We are worried that parliament is moving in the opposite direction. Even in the EU, the European directive of tobacco has been approved, for example Germany is completely against plain packaging.
Q. You mentioned the EU. Georgia has signed an EU Associate Agreement which requires some changes to tobacco regulations. They also have some recommendations for approaching European standards. Do you think that this might be the reason for these regulations?
A. Germany, the leading country in the European Union, is not implementing it. This demonstrates perfectly, that even if the EU gives a recommendation, the country can still disagree. Italy and Greece are against the implementation also. If you want to cut down on the number then it’s better to hold educational campaigns. We believe that an attack on the trademark system is bad for the economy.
Q. Due to the law the tobacco industry will not have the right to conduct any philanthropy hereafter. They won’t even have the right to conduct any ads or marketing action. What do you say to that?
A. My mission isn’t to judge a law, it’s up to the Government to decide. In general, since I believe in a free market economy, if you have legal activity you can advertise. If you are legally working why should someone forbid advertising? This type of banning is against freedom of speech and expression. Removing one’s brand is the same. You can’t describe your product anymore.
Q. How can the new regulation affect the tobacco business in general and the economy as well?
A. I think that in the future if any company thinks that plain packaging will touch them they won’t invest in Georgia anymore. I honestly don’t know what tobacco companies are going to do in the future. I understand that they aren’t happy. I don’t know what will happen afterwards. What I do know is the law is violating trademarks. If we take into consideration foreign countries’ examples, in France ex-president Nicola Sarkozy criticized the plain packaging law for wine. It’s impossible to survive without brand identity.
Q. What do you think, if the Parliament of Georgia passes this new regulation, will it force some tobacco companies to leave the Georgian market?
A. I honestly don’t know. It could cause this too. For sure it is not going to be a positive signal to other companies who want to invest. Afterwards these companies might ask for help from the World Trade organization. They might find themselves in a very bad situation, because they have put millions into advertising and creating brand awareness which they now might lose.
Written By Tamta Kldiashvili