Is Australia's Ban on Tobacco Branding a 'Violation of Rights'?

'You may not like us, but you can't take our property,' says tobacco spokesperson

Australia is close to becoming the first nation in the world to completely outlaw branding on cigarette packages in an attempt to make cigarettes less appealing. However, tobacco companies say that the move is an infringement on their intellectual property rights.

The new law will prohibit any logos whatsoever and mandates that graphic photos depicting the harms of tobacco use be put in their place. The only mention of the tobacco company on packs will be in small, plain white print at the bottom of the pack, under the graphic photos.

The BBC reported that the Australian government’s actions are a response to the approximately 15,000 smoking-related deaths per year. However, the tobacco companies are not sitting back. Instead, they have launched an entire ad campaign designed to convey the message to voters that the government is becoming a "nanny state" that takes Australians' money while telling them what to do.

The television commercial leads with a money-grubbing "nanny" pointing into the camera and mockingly telling viewers to "Do as you're told!" before a message at the end that reads: "Stop Plain Packaging Legislation."

Another argument the tobacco companies have is a bit more technical: they claim that the anti-branding laws infringe on their intellectual property rights, which are protected by international law, the BBC said.

"You may not like tobacco companies. You may have no sympathy whatsoever for us, but I think the principal is the same: you can't just take people's property," said Anne Edwards, a spokesperson for Philip Morris tobacco.

But the Australian government is not backing down from the legal fight.

"We're not going to be bullied into not taking this action just because tobacco companies say they might fight us in the courts," Health Minister Nicola Roxon told reporters. "We're ready for that if they do take legal action."

Australia has relatively few smokers, with only 17 percent of the adult population lighting up, compared with around 20 percent of American adults. However, the tobacco companies fear that Australia's law would be adopted by other countries with higher smoking rates and therefore, higher potential to cut into their profits, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. is also planning on implementing graphic photos on cigarette packages by 2012. However, the effectiveness of graphic photos on tobacco packaging is still in question, according to iWatch News.

"The graphic cigarette warning labels did not elicit strong responses in terms of intentions related to cessation or initiation [of smoking]," said a 2010 report for the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.