Tobacco Products

The discussion or more apt, debate, on plain packaging in relation to tobacco products has been ongoing in South Africa for several years now. But, until recently, it has been all-talk-and-no-action by Government on the issue.

That all changed with the recent introduction of the draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill, published in the Government Gazette at the beginning of May 2018.

One of the self-proclaimed purposes of the proposed Bill is to “regulate the packaging and appearance of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems and to make provision for the standardisation of their packaging”. Government’s reason for this? Apparently, the marketing and promotion of tobacco goods (electronic smoking devices and “vaping products” in particular) may encourage South Africa’s younger generation to pick up the habit and Government want to reduce the appeal of such tobacco products to consumers.

So, what does this mean to anyone interested in the tobacco and vape industry, including consumers and retailers?

Firstly, the proposed Bill states that a retailer or wholesaler who sells tobacco products cannot display these products at their places of business – in other words, tobacco products (and all other forms of point of sale advertising) cannot be visible to consumers.

Secondly, the Minister is tasked with prescribing standardised packaging and labeling requirements for tobacco products and these requirements are to include:

  • uniform packaging for all tobacco products;
  • the prohibition of branding, logos and trade marks (other than the brand name) on all packaging; and
  • the standardisation of the colour and font of brand names on tobacco product packaging.

In the result, it will no longer be possible to distinguish tobacco goods through the use of distinctive logos, colours or other elements.

The “knock-on” effect of the removal of logos from packaging means that the brand names of tobacco and vape products become even more important because consumers will now need to be “hyper-aware” of how to identify their brand of choice.

And what about new entrants in the tobacco and vape market? They could very well have a difficult time building up brand recognition since their products cannot be marketed in any way nor even seen by the purchasing public prior to purchase. The result? Consumers will end up having less choice (they can only ask for what they know, right?) and so a monopoly is created for existing brands.

Another potentially serious “knock-on” effect is that it may very well become harder to distinguish between legitimate and illicit tobacco goods in the marketplace. If everyone’s packaging is going to look the same, how can we tell a fake from the real thing? An increase in the sale of illegitimate tobacco products would, no doubt, be detrimental to tobacco product brand owners.

Interested persons may submit their comments on the proposed Bill before 09 August 2018.

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