In October, I wrote about a move by the Icelandic government to ban certain types of alcohol packaging, and how a UK civil service mouthpiece was despatched in an effort to persuade a European court to back them.
The upshot is that, not only was the Cabinet Office agent (I like that terminology, seeing as no-one but a select few would have known he was going there) objecting to the slapping down of laws against pretty packaging, he was also making damn sure that the option of no packaging at all was still allowable to a government very near to you.It did kinda explain a little more about why plain packaging of alcohol was being considered by Westminster last spring.
A new in-depth paper has now been published discussing the court proceedings between Iceland's state monopoly alcohol retailer and the manufacturers concerned. The conclusion makes for interesting, if sinister, reading (emphases mine).
In the aftermath of the 2011 UN Political Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases, governments across the world are increasingly focusing their regulatory efforts on lifestyle risk factors, such as tobacco consumption, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity. Being that these socially-accepted behaviours have traditionally been left to individual autonomy, policymakers face the difficulty of formulating socially-acceptable, legally-viable and economically-effective policies aimed at reducing the consumption of some of the relevant products. Given the prominent role played by the appearance, imagery and general packaging of products, policymakers seem determined to reduce the ability of manufacturers to market their products as they wish. In particular, as regulators have become suddenly aware of the power of marketing to induce consumer choices, they seem ready to offset those marketing techniques (that have been in use since the 1960s) that are increasingly used to market products that are perceived as unhealthy. As a result, besides the most extreme form (generally called plain packaging), other less intrusive forms of standardized packaging are emerging. Besides the wellknown example of the visual display bans at point of sale (whose EEA-legal compliance has already been judged by the EFTA Court in the pioneering Philip Morris judgment), there are – as illustrated by the present case – other attempts aimed at depriving certain products of their most glamorous and appealing packaging components.
While regulations aimed at prohibiting misleading packaging practices existed for decades in order to limit (economic) fraud, the focus of the regulatory interventions on packaging practices is now shifting to another policy goal: that of limiting the consumption of those products that – due to their constituents and effects – are increasingly perceived as unhealthy.
By banning or limiting the visual imagery of the packaging of alcoholic beverages and making their contents more salient through mandatory labelling, the Icelandic regulations discussed in the present case seem in line with this logic. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon – as demonstrated by this judgment – is not limited to the area of tobacco, but extends to alcohol and unhealthy products as well.In other words, governments worldwide have now decided that 'personal autonomy' - otherwise known as freedom to choose for oneself - is no longer acceptable for consumption of legal products such as tobacco, alcohol, or unhealthy food. There is little distinction going on here, they are all gateways to ill-health according to these people. Nanny knows best and will legislate them out of existence, by destroying their packaging with enforced warnings - graphic or otherwise - and the outlawing of branding if necessary.
So, when big tobacco control says, as it has done consistently, that ...
Myth #7: It may be tobacco today but other consumer products will follow
FACT: Tobacco is not like any other product, it is the only legal consumer product on the market which is lethal when used as intended. That is why the UK and over 170 other governments have signed up to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which places legal obligations on governments to strictly regulate tobacco products. Plain packs for tobacco will not therefore set a precedent for other consumer products.... they are well aware that they are lying.
A co-ordinated and concerted effort is already underway to interfere with the packaging of every product which it has been decided is unhealthy, and it is backed by every country which has signed up to the supranational UN Political Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases. And tobacco controllers, being one of the key proponents, were there at the time and jubilant when it was signed.
Those who have been cheer-leading for plain packaging of tobacco should be aware that they have no right to kick up a fuss when garish state warnings and/or plain packaging are inevitably extended to their bottle of Pinot Grigio, their occasional fast food treat, or even their kids' Freddo the frog.
There is no myth here. It's no longer if it will happen to other products, but when.