According to a new report Big Tobacco’s smoke-free deception: Tobacco trademarks in ASEAN countries uncover the truth, tobacco companies registered more intellectual property (IP) for cigarette brands than for brands of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) or e-cigarettes and Heated Tobacco Products (HTP). The report was launched today by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).
The report underscored that apparently big tobacco companies has no intention to reduce sales of cigarettes while it supposedly promotes a smoke-free alternative products.
These past four years in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, Philip Morris International (PMI), Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and British American Tobacco (BAT) filed 533 IP registrations for cigarette brands, compared to only 169 for HTP and ENDS; out of these, 357 cigarette brand registrations have been approved compared to 112 for HTP and ENDS.
PMI filed the most trademark applications for both existing and new cigarette brands: 453 brand registration applications in the five countries; of these, 332 were for cigarettes, 97 for HTP, and 24 for ENDS.
“While tobacco companies now acknowledge that cigarettes are harmful, they have simultaneously registered hundreds of trademarks for cigarette brands and continue to increase cigarette sales. Despite their new smoke-free rhetoric, the reality in ASEAN countries shows the duplicity of tobacco companies, as cigarette sales continue to be their core source of revenue. If tobacco companies were sincere about claiming to promote a smoke-free society, they would stop making, marketing, and selling cigarettes,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.
“The tobacco industry is pushing people to embrace the use of alternative tobacco products such as HTP and ENDS even as it is expanding its market for cigarettes. To be consistent with the goal of reducing and ending tobacco use, applications for new cigarette brands and brand variants should be denied,” added Dorotheo.
Trademark registrations pave the way for the formal entry of HTP and ENDS into the local market, even when they are prohibited. Although HTP and ENDS have been banned in Thailand since 2014, there were 34 applications for new trademarks of these products, including PMI’s IQOS. PMI is aggressively promoting its new products and applying pressure on the government to “give people a safer alternative.”
“This tactic provides an additional opportunity for tobacco companies to interfere with local tobacco control laws and policies. Moreover, some applications filed for registration directly violate the tobacco control law, which prohibits misleading or deceptive descriptors that convey a product is healthier or less harmful, such as “Marlboro Zero”, “Marlboro Zero Addictive”, “Marlboro Silver Less Smell”, and “Marlboro Fine Touch Less Smell”, ” said Dorotheo.
The World Health Organization has stated explicitly that all forms of tobacco use are harmful—including HTP—because tobacco is inherently toxic and contains carcinogens even in its natural form. Currently, the WHO states that there is no evidence to demonstrate that ENDS and HTP are less harmful than conventional tobacco products and conclusions cannot yet be drawn about their ability to assist in quitting smoking.