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‘Plain tobacco packaging contradicts fundamental rights’

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, May 23
The Parliament of Georgia has passed new tobacco regulations which set a range of prohibitions in terms of using, advertising or selling tobacco products.

The restrictions - which prohibit smoking at all public areas except private homes, psychiatric clinics, penitentiary facilities, casinos, cigar bars, on cutters and in taxis - will gradually come into play over 2018-2021.

The regulations also include plain packaging for cigarettes, referring to packaging that requires the removal of all branding, such as colours, imagery, corporate logos and trademarks; only the country where the product is made will be written on the box.

The head of the Americans for Tax Reforms Property Rights Alliance, Lorenzo Montanari, has visited Georgia through the invitation of the New Economic School – Georgia.

The Messenger sat down with him to learn more about the plain packaging proposal, as well as its possible pros and cons.

Q. Mr. Montanari, the most disputed part of the new amendments is the introduction of plain packing. The Government and parliamentary majority members say it will decrease the number of smokers. What’s your view?

A. Plain packing, when it is impossible for the consumers to guess the brand, is used in several countries, like Australia, New Zeeland, Norway, UK, France, Hungary…the data released after intruding the amendments for instance, in Australia, show that the changes didn’t work and didn’t lead to a decreased number of smokers. Even if the law worked I, and the Americans for Tax Reforms

Property Rights Alliance, would be against the law, as it contradicts intellectual property rights, freedom of choice and freedom of expression. Strong intellectual property rights are the engine of fair, prosperous and transparent societies. I can add here that in terms of protecting intellectual rights Georgia is still a backbencher, while in terms of the simplicity of registering businesses the country is taking the leading position. I have met lawmakers and ministries’ representatives here in Georgia who also stood against plain packing, and I don’t understand why Parliament approved the amendment. A country with such a huge economy as Germany, and most other developed countries, refrained from adopting such a regulation.

Q. How can plain packing harm businesses and investments?

A. Georgia vitally needs investments. If finally approved, plain packaging may expand to other products as well, such as junk food, wine and others. When a businessman sees that a country supports plain packing, he may refrain from putting money in such a country’s economy. I would definitely be among such investors.

Q. Was there a case when a country approved plain packing for tobacco and later used the same regarding for other products.

A. Yes, it was like that in Thailand.

Q. Apart from violating the rights you mentioned above and a threat concerning investments, is there any other threat that plain tobacco packing may trigger?

A. If we see the example of those countries which have already introduced such a charge, a threat of illicit tobacco products and counterfeit tobacco can emerge.

Q. Georgia is a member of the World Trade Organisation. By May 2013, Cuba, Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic challenged Australia's rules through the WTO by filing requests for consultations, the first step in challenging Australia’s tobacco-labelling laws at the WTO. What is the situation in this regard?

A. The issue is being discussed now and we are waiting for the final solution. We have provided all our evidence to the WTO on why plain packaging is harmful.

Q If the WTO disapproves the view against plain packaging, is there any other lever to suspend the process?

A. Only the WTO can prohibit the plain packaging, which is a powerful stroke against free will and free choice. Just imagine many different products in the same plain packaging….just imagine Georgian wine, coming from a country can be proud of its diversity, to be placed in similar packaging…

Q. If there was no note about plain packaging, what would be your view about the new tobacco regulations in Georgia? A. I won’t focus on it, it’s the business of Georgia’s legislation. The only issue I can comment on is the issue which may contradict intellectual property and similar rights. Plain packaging contradicts fundamental rights. I would say that there are lot more other means, for example advertising, to fight smoking.