We Told You So: Ireland to Extend Plain Packaging to Alcohol

David Williams

July 17, 2015

Sometimes being able to say “I told you so” isn’t a victory, especially when the prediction would have a negative impact on taxpayers and consumers. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has been sounding the alarm on various attempts by governments around the globe to institute plain packaging policies for tobacco.  Many times those warnings have also come with the expressed concern that these types of policies would be just the beginning of far more aggressive attempts to regulate the packaging of other products like alcohol and sugary foods. Unfortunately, that prediction appears to have been correct, at least in the case of Ireland with their desire to plain package alcohol.

In March of this year, Ireland became the first country in Europe, and the second country in the world, to adopt plan packaging for tobacco products. The official adoption of plain packaging in Ireland was a major loss for intellectual property, taxpayers, and preventing further illicit trade and black market activity of tobacco products (read previous blog postings here and here).

Now, only a few months later, it appears that Ireland may try and expand the policy to include alcohol. A report from the Joint Committee on Health & Children details their plan:

Alcohol product labelling

The Committee supports Head 5 of the General Scheme. Alcohol labelling should be treated in a similar fashion to tobacco legislation, to include the following:

  • Clear health warnings to be included on alcohol products, indicating that alcohol causes disease;
  • The Minister should also consider ensuring that warnings be given prominence with an emphasis on visual, graphic designs for maximum effect;
  • Labelling should be standardised, taking into account best practice on design guidelines;
  • Labelling should include sufficient information on alcohol content in grams, standard drink size, and relate this to recommended maximum weekly consumption;
  • A complementary public awareness campaign should be run to clearly explain labelling to the public.

Irish taxpayers could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars if these new regulations are passed.  American businesses could be saddled with millions of dollars in compliance costs, meaning less revenue and more potential for layoffs which would hurt the U.S. economy.

Chris Passarelli, Senior Intellectual Property Counsel at Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty, noted key concerns from the industry and how plain packaging would be a extremely damaging:

In response to this development, there are major concerns coming from the alcohol beverage industry, that the institution of plain packaging requirements will create a hostile environment giving rise to counterfeiting and consumer fraud, both in domestic and import/export markets, particularly in the premium liquor space.

The concerns given above regarding criminal activity are something that TPA has continually stressed when talking about plain packaging. A KPMG report showed the consequences of Australia implementing plain packaging in 2012:

  • The overall level of tobacco consumption in Australia was approximately 17.7 million kilograms in the full year 2013 (higher than in 2012 & half-year 2013)
  • Illegal consumption increased to 13.9% of total consumption (higher than in 2012 & half-year 2013)

The fight against plain packaging continues to be an uphill battle and advocates who care about intellectual property and protecting taxpayers must be vigilant against new threats from governments looking to institute plan packaging of any kind.

Australia has seen disastrous results and now Ireland want to replicate those results, but tobacco appears to be just the tip of the iceberg on this attack against intellectual property.  Consumers, taxpayers, and big and small businesses lose out when plain packaging regulations are implemented.