The fine line between brands and health

An illustration photo taken on the counter of a cigarette vendor's store shows France's new 'neutral' cigarette packs, replacing logos on the packaging with health warnings and graphic images of tobacco-related illnesses. [EPA/IAN LANGSDON]

For the World Health Organisation (WHO), plain packaging is considered an effective way to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products and increase the effectiveness of health warnings.

The industry, on the other hand, complains that removing brands from products will eventually lead to the rise of black markets while simultaneously harming businesses in Europe. Citing governments’ data, the tobacco industry also says that the measure has not reduced smoking rates.

Opponents of plain packaging fear that this tobacco-style over-regulation is gradually moving from tobacco to alcohol, sugary drinks and junk food, as a number of countries have taken measures aimed at protecting public health from harmful products.

South Africa, for instance, has banned labelling and brands of infant formula; the EU consumers’ organisation asks for a “cartoons ban” for products with high sugar content to protect children; Ireland’s alcohol bill “hides” alcohol from customers’ view; there are bans on advertising aimed at children in Canada.

However, it remains unclear what exactly is the fine line between over-regulation such as plain packaging and the need to protect consumers. What is the role of education? What can the industry do?

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