Subject: Singapore's plan on "Standardized packaging" of tobacco products
Health Promotion Board
3 Second Hospital Avenue,
I have read your campaign to control tobacco use and promote good health among Singapore citizens, it is a good objective. But I notice that you also plan to introduce or legislate “standardized packaging” or “plain packaging” in tobacco products, and I think it can adversely affect Singapore’s good image on protecting intellectual property rights (IPR).
It is true that smoking is dangerous to one's health. I myself am not a smoker, never smoked a single stick in my whole life, never worked for the tobacco industry or its allied industries. But I think people have a choice for their body. They recognize the danger of smoking -- and drinking, drugs, over-eating, sedentary lifestyle, etc. -- and still they do it. They compare the health risks with the pleasure of those actions then they decide whether to continue doing it or not; if they continue, whether to smoke 1 or 20 sticks a day, drink 1 or 10 bottles of beer a day, etc.
Plain packaging (PP) is wrong for the following reasons.
1. Singapore is known for its clear and strong property rights protection, both physical and intellectual property. Abolition or significant reduction of the trademarks and corporate logo of tobacco companies via PP will dent this image and put Singapore’s adherence to IPR protection in a question mark.
2. If Singapore is to be consistent in its policy, then it will be pressured in the near future to also introduce PP for alcohol products like beer and whiskey, soda, chocolate bars, other high sugar, high fat content meals and snacks.
3. People who derive pleasure in smoking will continue to smoke despite PP and they will likely shift to cheaper and illicit products. Overall smoking incidence can either flatline or even increase because tobacco companies will produce cheaper but cool-tasting products, which will attract new smokers or entice the few-sticks-a-day smokers to become one pack a day smokers. PP will only adversely affect the sale of known and premium products of the big multinational tobacco companies but not the cheap products of lesser known companies.
4. If drawn in a graph, the supply curve of cheap cigarettes will move to the right as manufacturers of premium brands will soon produce lots of plain pack but cheap cigarettes. Equilibrium price goes down while equilibrium quantity goes up, even if the demand curve does not move.
Discouraging the people from smoking can be done via more public education. The graphic health warnings, campaigns by the Ministry of Health and health NGOs or groups are part of such public education.
But some people will continue to smoke – and over-drink, over-eat, over-sit in sedentary lifestyle – despite learning more and new things about the dangers of smoking, over-drinking, and so on. Government cannot micro-manage the lives of people all the time. What Singapore should continue protecting is its image as the bastion of IPR protection, whether companies are in IT, pharma, healthcare, hotels, food, alcohol or tobacco.
Thank you very much.
Bienvenido Oplas, Jr.
President, Minimal Government Thinkers
IPR and Innovation 29, Civil society enforcement of patents, copyrights, January 18, 2016
IPR and Innovation 30, Patents and pharma issues in Asia in 2007, February 07, 2016
IPR and Innovation 31, On TPP, medicines patent and tobacco trademark, February 29, 2016