Gov. to Irish, French: Plain cigarette packs would be like Guinness, champagne, without labels

RALEIGH, N.C. – In a trans-Atlantic debate over cigarette packaging, North Carolina’s governor poses a rhetorical question to the Irish and French governments: Would Guinness be recognizable labeled simply as “beer?” Or would champagne sell as well in a bottle lacking its distinctive curves?

Gov. Pat McCrory has written letters to French and Irish officials decrying proposals in those countries to force manufacturers to package their cigarettes in plain containers. McCrory argues farmers and manufacturers in the top U.S. tobacco-producing state would be hurt by the proposals to remove brand logos and colours from cigarette boxes.

“Plain packaging laws are a direct assault on intellectual property and trademarks,” he says in the Oct. 6 letter to Gerard Araud, France’s ambassador to the U.S.

He wrote a similar letter to Irish officials. In both letters, he compares North Carolina’s tobacco industry to Ireland and France’s famed vineyards, breweries and distilleries.

“Imagine if the United States required Guinness to be stripped of its universally recognized brand and be marketed solely as ‘beer’ or Jameson to be labeled simply as ‘whiskey’ and Baileys as ‘liqueur,'” he wrote in the Sept. 10 letter to Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S., Anne Anderson.

He asks the French ambassador to contemplate seeing his country’s famous wines packaged in “the same standard container regardless of the type of alcohol.”

“In France, containers play an important role, as varietals have different bottle shapes,” he said.

The French bill requiring neutral cigarette packs by 2016 is slated for debate in French Parliament next year. The government’s plan includes a measure that would force tobacco companies to sell packs of cigarettes with the same shape, size, colour and typeset. The brand will still be mentioned but on a small place on the packaging.

“There is no future for tobacco in France,” French Health minister Marisol Touraine said in an interview published Wednesday in the daily newspaper Le Parisien.

Touraine argued that making the packaging less attractive would help discourage young people from starting to smoke. Around 30 per cent of French people are smokers, and the habit causes 73,000 deaths a year in France, according to government statistics.

Ireland is considering a similar proposal to remove brand logos and colours from cigarette packaging.

Australia became the first country in the world to mandate plain cigarette packs without brand logos or colours in a law that went into effect in 2012. Instead, the packs are solid brown and covered in large graphic warnings.

Ralph Victory, a spokesman for the Irish Embassy in Washington, confirmed that McCrory’s letter was received and sent to officials in Dublin. A spokesman for the French Embassy in Washington said he could not comment on the letter.

Tobacco is big business in North Carolina, where farmers grew more than 380 million pounds of tobacco in 2012 to give the state top ranking, according to statistics for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Given agriculture’s importance to North Carolina, we felt that it was necessary to research the issue and reach out to officials in France and Ireland,” McCrory spokesman Ryan Tronovitch said in an email.


Associated Press Writer Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.