Tin men and paper tigers
Posted by Angry Exile
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.