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No (more) logo: plain packaging and communicative agency

University of California Davis
Publication Date
  • Hd Industries. Land Use. Labor
  • He Transportation And Communications
  • K Law (General)
  • Communication
  • Law
  • Medicine


The tobacco industry’s archives suggest that the global campaign for the plain packaging of tobacco products originated in 1986, when the Canadian Medical Association passed a resolution calling for cigarettes to be sold in packages bearing only a brand name and the health message ‘this product is injurious to your health’. In most jurisdictions, regulations requiring the apposition of health warnings to cigarette packs have been in force for decades. Proposals for plain packaging aim to go further, and eliminate the visual and tactile features that turn cigarette packs into ‘badge’ wrappers, and which express the subliminal messages that diminish or subvert the effect of even the most uncompromising health messages. Given that effective plain packaging regulations would severely restrict the tobacco companies’ ability to exploit their trademarks or rights in trade dress, the question of the domestic or international ‘constitutionality’ of such restrictions has become an essential ground for the industry’s contestation of plain packaging measures. When it passed the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act of 2011, which came into force on December 1 2012, Australia became the first nation in the world to impose a mandatory scheme of plain packaging, and, in the process, the first jurisdiction to adjudicate on the constitutionality of plain packaging. Plain packaging legislation raises a number of engaging theoretical and practical questions: about the legal qualities of the intellectual property rights that articulate branding strategies, about the relationship between the regimes of international trade law and world health policy, and about the history of regulatory initiatives to address the public health implications of smoking. Here, I am interested questions about the communicative agency of the mass media: what does the example of Australia’s plain packaging laws tell us about the role played by the surfaces of material wrappers and packages in branding practices?; how do brands articulate with the other strands of the mass media?

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