From: CNN Opnion
By Stephen Cheliotis
I’ve never profited from branding cigarettes, but the decision by the Australian government to pass a law removing brand colors and logos from packaging concerns me.
Good intentions almost always lead to unintended consequences; banned songs enjoy a boost as consumers clamor to rebel or see what the fuss is about, and what about prohibition? Will the lack of a red triangle really be less glamorous to the young than packaging shouting: “‘This product is scandalous!’ to ‘authorities?’”
And where does it end? What about alcohol, fatty foods, sugary drinks, and sweets? Should they all be sold in plain packaging or unbranded? It’s a slippery slope to a nanny state, where consumer choice is curtailed and businesses restricted.
Brands are major drivers of economic growth, and without them a company’s incentive to innovate is removed. Why have the best or safest product if no one can distinguish you from the rest?
Equally, why spend on corporate social responsibility (CSR)? Brands empower and enable consumers to select those companies they approve of. The environmental policy of a company or how they treat their employees influences my decision to buy a given branded product. Without the brand, however, that power is removed and, by default, the business’s interest in CSR. The business’s fear factor and liability is reduced substantially.
Furthermore, trust is important to brands and they have to be careful not to breach that trust or consumers will vote accordingly, with their wallets, as they decide the source of a given product is no longer reliable or safe.
Obviously tobacco kills, but at least known brands have to uphold certain standards (for example the amount of nicotine contained in each cigarette) so consumers’ trust can be retained. According to the BBC in January, counterfeit cigarettes being sold in Sussex contained abnormally high levels of cancer-causing chemicals. There are many similar stories, including the UK’s City of Stoke County Council highlighting that “people should be aware that fake tobacco is even more hazardous than the real thing.”
By making packaging a doddle to copy it gives rise to counterfeit cigarettes, even more dangerous and cheaper than genuine brands, making it easier in the process for young people to start and continue their habit.