Apparently we should feel some sympathy for companies whose products kill millions of people every year, companies that have gone out of their way over the years to make their products more addictive, to hook young smokers on their products, and to conceal evidence of the harm that tobacco causes.
I'm not a fan generally of prohibition, but if there was ever an industry that deserved to be obliterated it would be the tobacco industry.
The Herald editorial argues that the brands of these killer companies are valuable intellectual property, and that these brands are property that should not effectively be confiscated by the government as a result of the plan-packaging of tobacco products.
Property rights are important, even for industries for whom we have distaste. Governments should not remove them unless it is necessary. Plain-pack legislation would be plain theft.The trouble with this argument is that governments confiscate property all the time. It's called tax. Reasonable people may argue about how much we should be taxed, but reasonable people don't dispute the need for a tax system.
We also have rules allowing the state to confiscate other property. If the cops find out that I have a stash of AK-47s in my basement, all purchased from a legitimate overseas website, I'm pretty sure they'll take them off me. Tobacco has killed millions more people than AK-47s ever will. Will the Herald now go in to battle on behalf of assault rifle manufacturers?
I know a few IP lawyers have been expressing concern that the legitimate trade mark rights of some tobacco companies are under threat as a result of plans to introduce plain-packaging. That's true. But the trade mark rights of tobacco companies are not more important than the health of the general public. Whatever the libertarian right may believe, property rights are not inviolable, and property rights do not trump everything else.
By all means let us have a debate about the effects of plain-packaging. But don't expect many people to cry over the lost property rights of tobacco companies.