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

Campaign UK - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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