Decades after a flurry of disastrous publicity challenged the tobacco industry, the maker of Marlboro is back in the news, fighting accusations of marketing miscues, this time in Britain. The Guardian is reporting that Philip Morris, the manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes has been caught “trying to sidestep” new plain packaging laws.
The kerfuffle started after the Brits passed a law banning branded cigarette packets. While manufacturers were given a year to sell through their remaining branded stock, retailers are expected to phase out branded packs and replace them with packaging designed to discourage smoking.
In response, Philip Morris distributed cigarette packs under the Marlboro brand but packaged in tin boxes, rather than paper packages. Regulators believe the appearance of these packages is Philip Morris’ way of “sidestepping” the new packaging and branding regulations by rolling out packages that are intended to “prolong the visibility of Marlboro’s brand” in Britain.
In response to the debate, Alex Cunningham, the Labor MP for Stockton North who led the plain packaging endeavor, told The Guardian, “By offering packs of 10 in reusable tins, Philip Morris International is knowingly increasing the lifespan of packs of 10 and promoting its brand, if smokers decant their cigarettes into these small branded tins. The fact that these tins appeared almost immediately prior to the branding and size restrictions coming into force is suspicious. (This move) is against the whole spirit of what’s intended with the plain packaging legislation…”
Cunningham was not done, flatly accusing the tobacco companies of trying to get around any proposed or enacted legislation: “The tobacco companies will stop at nothing in order to retain their branding and sell a product that everyone knows has such tremendous health risks. It’s an immature trick, and I hope people will soon put them into their bins and they’ll find their way to the recycling center.”
Some are saying the shock expressed by Cunningham is politics in play. “Of course, Philip Morris will do all they can to sell their products, and why shouldn’t they?” Is the argument. And that’s a position that tends to make a lot of sense.
If a company is legally allowed to sell a product, they are welcome to do what they can to try to sell that product within the law. Complaining about that might play to Cunningham’s base, but it’s rough optics for many other folks who think people should just be able to buy what they wish.
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent PR Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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