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Big Tobacco’s property rights trumped by duty to protect youth


Big Tobacco’s property rights trumped by duty to protect youth

Monday, August 27, 2012 • Jeremy Muir

Property rights and the security of intellectual property reduce the risks of doing business and provide the basis for a healthy, thriving economy.

Innovative companies invest huge amounts in research and development because they will own the technologies and techniques they develop.

The same is true for the brands companies invest vast sums in (with much fewer benefits for consumers) . . . hence British American Tobacco NZ’s campaign: “If I Create It, I Should Own It.”

BAT New Zealand is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to counter the Government’s push for plain packaging of cigarettes.

It is on a hiding to nothing, though, with Health Minister Tony Ryall able to confidently say BAT is wasting its money. We can thank our friends across the ditch for this, after Australia’s highest court this month upheld the world’s toughest law on cigarette promotion — prohibiting tobacco company logos on packs.

The Ministry of Health has put out a consultation paper on plain packaging and expects to report back on the findings in October.

Mr Ryall says New Zealanders have turned against tobacco companies and their marketing strategies. This is the crux of the issue, and why Big Tobacco has to accept its fate.

All rights in a civilised society come with an obligation of social responsibility — and it is society that determines how these highly subjective calls are made.

Compared to other addictive drugs, tobacco has a privileged position in society. This is for historical and cultural reasons — and the slow realisation of just how poisonous a product it is, which the industry shamefully fought to suppress.

Yes, British American Tobacco owns its shiny, seductive logos — but its executives will soon have to content themselves with displaying them in their offices.

Society does not want this business to thrive, it wants it to wither and die. Keeping its product behind walls, in plain boxes, and ramping up its price is how it intends to achieve this.

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