It is not often that events in Ireland register among the political fraternity in North Carolina but news that Ireland is planning to force cigarette companies to use plain packaging on their products has prompted Governor Pat McCrory to act.
Writing to the Irish Ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson, the Governor requested that his concerns be forwarded to the Irish Government for consideration in what is becoming an international assault on the Irish proposals. Ireland it will be remembered was the first country in the world to introduce a blanket ban on smoking in the workplace. The legislation was presented as a health-care issue for workers rather than an attack on cigarettes per se, but of course the effect was the same. No-one can really argue that an individual does have the right to damage the health of another person by smoking in an enclosed work environment and thus the new laws were widely accepted and implemented.
The smoking ban in Ireland badly hit the revenues of pubs and hotels especially, both of which are businesses crucial to Ireland’s tourist economy. Despite this the laws remain, with prospects of their reach being extended.
The Irish war on tobacco continues and the latest proposals involve compelling cigarette manufacturers to have brand-free blank labelling on all of their tobacco products. Ireland already forces manufacturers to print extreme and graphic photographs of the effects of cigarettes on its packaging – a policy that neuro-science fMRI research suggests is counter-productive. Now the focus is on removing all branding and slogans such as ‘low tar’ from the packaging in a bid to stop the use of cigarettes in Ireland, especially among women.
One in three Irish women now smoke regularly with lung cancer now overtaking breast cancer as the main cause of cancer death among women in Ireland. In poorer areas the rate of smoking among women is over 50%. A recent study by an Australian research group revealed the following rates of smoking internationally:
North Carolina is home to the second-largest tobacco firm in the US, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company who manufacture the Camel brand of cigarettes. Three of that States top five employers are tobacco companies. So while it is not surprising that the Governor of North Carolina should take such an interest in anything likely to effect the employment of his constituents, it is perhaps a little surprising that his reach should extend to Ireland.
Governor McCrory suggested that the ban on branding would be a ‘direct assault’ on intellectual property and trademark rights. He wrote that there was ‘little evidence that plain packaging measures are anything more than symbolism’. Perhaps missing the point that all branding is a form of symbolism.
The Republican politician said the Irish plans threatened to ‘divert attention and resources from more effective actions that could achieve Ireland’s greater goal of being smoke-free during the next decade’. He declined to offer suggestions as to how the country might become smoke-free.
He suggested that retaliatory action in the US could hit Irish businesses:
Imagine if the United States required Guinness to be stripped of its universally recognised brand and be marketed solely as ‘beer’ or Jameson to be labelled simply as ‘whiskey’ and Baileys as ‘liqueur’. These outstanding Irish companies would be outraged and would argue that the quality and distinction of their products, as conveyed through their brand packaging, were being stolen – and they would be right.’
Presumably any such alcohol labelling ban would apply to US beer companies and not just Irish companies but nevertheless this is a fair point. The focus in Ireland is currently very much on cigarettes while it can be argued that alcohol advertising is also very damaging.
The letter to the Irish Ambassador concludes by saying that he respects Ireland’s ‘sovereign prerogative to govern’.
The issue is clearly divisive in the US also with the US Chamber of Commerce joining the North Carolina Governor in his objections to plain packaging while the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association have both written to Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny supporting the proposed new laws.
Pressure against the initiative is building. Within Europe Italy became the ninth EU state to object to the anti-smoking packaging, joining the Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
It remains to be seen if the Irish Government has the will to proceed.