Campaign UK


The soon-to-be unbranded tobacco industry is warning that others could suffer a similar fate. By Simon Gwynn


As cigarette branding becomes a thing of the past, a tobacco company warns that food-anddrink brands could be next

“Because a lot of regulation is driven by emotion, well-meaning policy decisions may not have the effect that is intended” Jonathan Duce, Japan Tobacco Internatio­nal

It was Don Draper’s very first case: how to get smokers to ignore the mounting evidence that cigarettes caused cancer and learn to love Lucky Strike for its intangible brand qualities. But while the famous ads proclaimin­g Lucky Strike to be “toasted” have long seemed a relic of the distant past, its bullseye logo has remained one of the most recognisab­le visual symbols in the world of brands. That might be about to change. As of 21 May, all tobacco sold in England must come in the drab, brown, featureles­s packaging agreed by parliament two years ago. Cigarette branding is over.

But with other countries now considerin­g following suit, the tobacco industry is not sitting back. Japan Tobacco Internatio­nal, owner of Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut and Hamlet, claims that it wants to ensure the spread of regulation is not just Big Tobacco’s problem with a business-facing PR campaign that was launched in March at The Internatio­nal Food & Drink Event trade show in London.

“The future of brands” makes the case that the creep of regulation won’t stop at fag packets: if brands don’t stand up and act, then alcohol, soft drinks and confection­ery could be next.

The jury, to some extent, remains out on plain tobacco packaging. In Australia, the first country to introduce it back in 2012, the government says the policy is achieving its aims of making cigarettes less appealing to consumers – especially teenagers – and increasing the effectiven­ess of health warnings. But the industry claims the only real impact has been to drive existing smokers towards cheaper brands and counterfei­t products, which it says are harder to spot without branding.

“What we’re doing is a wake-up call to the food-and-drink sector on how they are basically next in line for extreme regulation­s,” Jonathan Duce, head of external communicat­ions at JTI, says. “At the very extreme end, that includes plain packaging.” There are other measures JTI thinks curtail what should be basic rights for businesses to operate freely: taxes, health warnings, product restrictio­ns, and advertisin­g and promotiona­l curbs.

Both the live exhibition stand, which is set to appear at other trade shows around the world, and the campaign’s interactiv­e website make use of an abandoned-circus theme with a touch of Tim Burton that demonstrat­es – not for the first time from the tobacco industry – that restrictio­ns really can be the mother of creativity. The imagery is about highlighti­ng the “chaotic” nature of regulation, Duce says.

The website is full of examples of real regulation­s that have either been proposed or are awaiting introducti­on, ranging from graphic health warnings for alcohol in Turkey to a similar rule for food high in fat, salt or sugar in Chile. In the UK, of course, businesses are gearing up for the soft-drinks industry levy, or “sugar tax”, which has now been approved by parliament and will come into force in April next year. But does any of this really mean that chocolate bars could be following cigarettes into plain packaging?

“It starts with taxes and then it may move quickly into other regulatory measures,” Duce says. “Because a lot of regulation is driven by emotion rather than precision, some well-meaning policy decisions may not have the effect that is intended.”

Chris Arnold, founder of Creative Orchestra and author of Ethical Marketing & The New Consumer, says JTI’S points should not be dismissed completely. “The danger of it is the bureaucrat­s – and the people who want to overprotec­t society – use it as an excuse to justify the next thing,” he explains. “It is creep. If you look at how liberty gets lost in any society, it is always with creep.”

But Arnold thinks taxes are both valid and effective: “If you look at cigarettes, they’re massively taxed and the government has used tax as a way to deter cigarette smoking. They do know that pricing works, but still people continue to smoke if they want to.”

There’s another reason why Cadbury, Coca-cola and Stella Artois probably don’t need to panic just yet – public opinion. Whatever the rights and wrongs of plain tobacco packaging, it is widely supported: a study by Cancer Research UK in 2015 found 72% of the UK public in favour.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health, says that, as the leading cause of preventabl­e premature death, tobacco is “different” from other products.

She also doubts that this campaign is a truly altruistic move by JTI.

“This isn’t about the UK – JTI is trying to convince global food-anddrink companies to back their campaign to prevent plain ‘standardis­ed’ cigarette packs from spreading around the world,” Arnott says.

“There are government­s lining up to implement plain packaging following the publicatio­n of the World Trade Organizati­on ruling that it is in line with trade law and that no compensati­on is due. JTI is trying to bolt the stable door after the horse has bolted.”

However, Duce points to a Public Health England report from December 2016 that floated the idea of plain packaging for alcohol. “Regulators are ‘copy and pasting’ tobacco-style regulation­s into other sectors without thinking through the implicatio­ns for the creative industry,” he insists.

Food and drink brands had better hope that Arnott is closer to the truth than Duce.

 ??  ?? In plain view: food-and-drink sector is ‘next in line for extreme regulation­s’, according to Japan Tobacco Internatio­nal campaign
In plain view: food-and-drink sector is ‘next in line for extreme regulation­s’, according to Japan Tobacco Internatio­nal campaign
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