Tin men and paper tigers

It might be blogging ego that makes a blogger quote themselves but I’m going to do it here just because of a vague prediction I made some months back.

Cigarette cases – I bet they will be making a comeback here, and I’ll bet you that […] there will be branded ones, either legit or made without the approval of the IP owners, appearing before long.

And sure enough, today I read this:

At least one tobacco company has moved to frustrate the Gillard government’s plain packaging laws by distributing metal cigarette packets for sale.

Peter Stuyvesant-branded metal packets are available for sale ahead of regulations which will outlaw the sale of packets bearing any brand or logo.

Okay, it’s a pretty obvious move for the baccy firms so it wasn’t a very impressive prediction. But one of the other things I mentioned in that five parter series on possible ways around the plain packs laws – some of which I still believe would be very difficult to legislate against and very hard to enforce if legislation was created – is that certain measures the industry can take would be effective only for as long as it takes the government to get it’s self righteous cock in a knot and ban them too. And so it’s not at all surprising that the article went on to say:

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek warned retailers not to get burnt by stocking metal cigarette tins, claiming they would not comply with the plain packaging regulations, due to take effect in December, and would become illegal to sell.

Ah, but illegal to give away? Illegal to just bring into the country after a nice holiday to a more liberal country? And what of those other ideas I came up with after really not a very great deal of thought? Are internet sites with templates to print out your own design of cigarette packet going to be censored? If so then I’m buggered since I have two, a blank one to make your own design and a DIY job I did recently because it was the most sarcastic thing I could think of. Am I breaking some ludicrous law that says I’m encouraging children to smoke by this? Who knows? Probably not yet, but perhaps one day.

And then there’s my other long standing prediction, that there’s a group people who are looking forward to plain packs as much as the tobaccophobic healthists, and that group is the illegal tobacco trade. Let’s be very blunt here, their principle competition is the industry that for all its faults is prepared to be regulated and bound by law, and trades both it’s products and its shares openly. Weaken that legal industry and it will surely be to the benefit of the shadow industry that laughs at regulations, has no need to check quality if it doesn’t want to, does not offer refunds to customers, and cannot be moderated by the actions of shareholders since it’s largely controlled by criminal gangs. If you could buy shares in tobacco smuggling operations they’ll probably pay nicely in the not too distant future, which is something that the government and the bansturbators have always either denied or glossed over. But now…

The government is also about to introduce draconian penalties against tobacco smugglers, following industry claims that plain packaging would cause an influx of black market tobacco.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon will today announce jail terms of up to 10 years for smuggling tobacco as part of tougher customs laws aimed at black market tobacco traders.

And I’m sure that would work well in a densely populated country with physically small and largely urbanised borders, because it’s a hell of a lot easier to catch smugglers. Australia has 25,000 kms of coastline and most of the population live along half a dozen stretches of it totalling perhaps a couple of thousand km or so. If you have a boat and can manage to avoid just the Brisbane/Gold Coast area, Sydney and the easternmost coast, Melbourne and Port Phillip Bay, and Adelaide – which you probably would do anyway unless the base of your smuggling operations was New Zealand or Antarctica – there is an absolute shitload of places that are a long way from anywhere that a small boat could come in unnoticed. And that’s before you get into the more sophisticated smuggling operations involving anything from computerised tracking of containers to bribing customs officials (yes, at least one of those stories was more about drugs but it’d be naive to imagine that the tobacco smugglers aren’t at it too). As for the counterfeiters, it’s well known that most of the enforcement action there is not done by the authorities at all but by the tobacco companies taking people to court for trademark infringements, and since those trademarks are the very same ones the government will soon prohibit the tobacco companies from using there doesn’t seem to be much incentive for the industry to carry on doing that after December.

It’s all very well making the consequences if caught more severe, but when the government is unable to significantly alter the actual risk of getting caught and is simultaneously working to increase the potential rewards it’s breathtakingly optimistic to think that the illegal tobacco trade is going to do anything other than increase. As I have continually pointed out since this idiocy was first mooted, cannabis, ecstasy, acid, heroin, cocaine, meth, you name it, and for that matter chop-chop tobacco too, all come in unbranded, cheap, plain packaging, and not only do they manage to keep their customers they don’t have a problem getting new ones as existing customers quit or die. Big Tobacco won’t either, not once it’s made the transition and people have got used to it, but the criminals have a big advantage over Big Tobacco even besides the obvious one that they don’t feel obliged to comply with those tiresome law things.

They’ve been doing it longer and are better at it.

Posted on May 31, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Many well-stated points Angry! Although I’d disagree with your assessment of yourself when you say, “Okay, it’s a pretty obvious move for the baccy firms so it wasn’t a very impressive prediction”

    I wouldn’t have thought they’d have the guts to try something as blatant as offering branded cases. They’re going to get their heads handed to them for that. Haven’t they already been forbidden to have branded T-Shirts, Caps, etc?

    What they SHOULD do is make it clear that they won’t defend their copyrights to their logos, so that citizens can feel free to print/make things with brand logos on them. The government could probably then try to force them legally to defend their own copyrights, but that’d be tricky. All they’d have to do is find and hire the most incompetent lawyer in the country so they’d lose every case! LOL!

    – MJM

    • Uh, honestly I’m not sure where the law stands on branded merchandise. I have a feeling it’s illegal to supply it on a loyalty card/points earned kind of model because it’s seen as providing incentives to smoke or to smoke more. But is there anything to stop Marlboro putting the design on a tee shirt and saying that it’s $15 for anyone at all, smoker or not, to buy if they want? It’d be a strange law that puts obstacles in the way of them selling non-tobacco products instead, but I’m not going to sy it isn’t so because the whole plain packs idea is itself a very strange law.

      On the issue of copyright, absolutely, yes. I’m sure the instinctive reaction will be to try to protect their trademarks but the canny ones will soon wonder why they’re bothering to make the effort. They might feel that by giving up they’re losing out to the illegal trade, but I think that’s going to happen anyway.

  2. Angry, I realize that NZ isn’t exactly Australia, but you ARE kinda close together down there…

    Any comments on this latest tax thing? (excerpted)

    “A report by the Treasury has admitted that smoking actually saves the Government money in the long run. The fiscal benefits of smoking have long been suspected but rarely acknowledged and a report by the Treasury now puts this on the record. In its report, the Treasury says smokers often die earlier than non-smokers and save the state in superannuation costs. The Treasury says smokers pay $1.3 billion a year in excise which may already exceed the direct health costs they impose…. The report was prepared for last Thursday’s Budget decision to raise the tax on cigarettes to discourage smoking.
    The tobacco excise will rise by 10% per year for the next four years, beginning on 1 January 2013. This is in addition to the annual inflation-indexed increase and will increase the price of an average pack of 20 cigarettes to more than $20 by 2016. The Treasury’s report says smoking helped, not harmed, Government finances, because the early death of smokers saved huge huge pension costs of $5.5 billion to $5.8 billion a year.

    More at: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/106871/treasury-says-smokers-save-the-govt-money

    I thought all that sounded pretty impressive, but then the true economic experts weighed in to point out that the silly folks at the Treasury Department don’t understand economics type thingies:

    “health lobby group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) rejects those arguments, saying they ignore many costs from smoking. … ”

    – MJM

    • Michael – first apologies. Not for the first time your comments are getting caught in the spam trap, and I’m a little slack about checking the spam folder for things that shouldn’t be there. Unfortunately I have no idea why this is happening to you even though I’ve clicked the ‘not spam’ option on your comments in the past. Very sorry. I’ll fiddle with the settings and see but until I understand it I can’t promise it won’t happen again. I will try to remember to check the spam folder more often in case it’s thrown you in there again.

      As for the Kiwis, the funny thing is that because of the lunacy going on here tobacco exports from NZ to Oz are on the up, which has tobacco control here cracking the shits about these evil death dealing Kiwis across the ditch sending their cargos of poison to our unsullied shores, blahblahsomething. Okay, exaggerated but you get the picture. That this wouldn’t be going on if Australia still had a tobacco industry seem not to have crossed as many minds as we might have hoped.

  3. So if someone buys a metal cigarette case with their favourite brand logo embellished upon the outside, that will be illegal in Oz? Good luck with enforcing that one.

    When are the next elections in your neck of the woods?

    • Yes, very hard to police, but I think it will only be illegal if its sold domestically with cigarettes inside. Might be wrong on that and it would still be illegal if sold empty by a company that also sells cigarettes, which is already getting silly but not something I;d put past them. Next election must be by the end September next year – last possible date is Grand Final day, I think – but the difference between the parties being more noise than substance I doubt it’ll be reversed.

  4. It’s an interesting conundrum, isn’t it? Assuming plain packs come in here in the UK too (what with the open and fair consultation process Lansley’s conducting), where does that leave non-plain packs which are perfectly legal in their country of purchase? All of my tobacco comes from Germany, EU duty paid (verbal health warnings, no nasty pictures despite the WHO policy) and there are no moves in Germany to go Plain. Will the likes of me be attracting attention for having shiny-shiny packs and corrupting minors? (If only….)

    • Can’t see anything they can do about packs brought in legally as personal imports. Here the recent budget has screwed travellers by reducing the allowance to fifty cigarettes, and since duty free shops usually don’t sell in fifties that means duty on three quarters of that carton of 200 you bring in. In the EU individual governments probably can’t get away with that, so for a change it works for people.

  5. bwanamakubwa

    Despite the sometimes adverse weather conditions here in the UK, my baccy plants are doing very well indeed. They’re growing on a well-tilled soil which has had well-rotted vegetable compost, very well-rotted horse manure and some slow-release fertilizer pellets dig into it. The plants are about 2′ high and they’ve all got monster leaves on them.
    An ex-Rhodesian tobacco farmer is going to help me cure the leaves and then bale them correctly so that they ‘mature’ properly over about three months. He reckons that I’ll get about 10-15lbs of smokeable leaf from my present crop.
    Good enough for me!
    Planning on planting three times the number of plants next year. Could be a nice little earner!

    • I have no idea if that kind of yield is good, bad or indifferent but 10-15lbs should certainly keep you going for a while. Good one. Everyone needs a hobby and horticulture is as good as any other.

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