Reaction: Government to ban branding on cigarette packaging

This morning, health secretary Andrew Lansley announced the Government's intention to ban cigarette packaging of all branding. Paul Porter, planning director at MARS\Y&R, who has worked on several tobacco marketing accounts, offered his reaction.

The Government’s move to introduce plain packaging around tobacco is certainly controversial and not just because of its dubious effect on curbing smoking.

As the public consultation launches on Monday, we should bear in mind that this could be the piece of legislation that opens the door on increasingly restrictive marketing practices across a number of sectors deemed, by the Government, to be harmful to the general public.

Confectionary could be next in line - it doesn’t contribute that much to the state’s coffers, but is seen to contribute to obesity. Alcohol is a natural contender, although it does bring considerable funds into the nation’s purse.

It’s worth noting that tobacco companies have always successfully found their way around tricky legislation. There are still ways of maximising routes to market - recruiting trade advocates, buying in exclusive sales rights at music events and in bars, or through the as-yet unexplored avenue of using the pack’s interior as a branding vehicle – tobacco companies will already have extensive plans in place.

And, as over 40 years of increased duty on cigarettes has done little to dampen smoking habits, what makes anyone think putting tobacco in white packs with Helvetica type will?

I’m not convinced this move will have any effect on the hugely complex act of buying tobacco, just as I’m not convinced that making the marketing of confectionery and alcohol dark will do much to limit obesity or curb binge drinking.

Rather than wasting time and money on what is clearly designed to be a headline grabbing initiative, the Government would be better off encouraging responsible marketing and promoting a healthy lifestyle to the general public.

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