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Plain tobacco packaging in Guatemala

The World Health Organization, better known by its acronym -WHO- negotiated a convention called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC); ratified by 180 countries, included Guatemala.

This Convention regulates strategies and measures that States must implement, with the sole purpose of reducing tobacco consumption. One of the measures is to regulate the way in which tobacco products must be packed and the information that the labels must contain. In article 11 of the said agreement, we can find the guidelines, among them, it is indicated that in the packages and labels should not be promoted false or misleading information that induces to error, regarding the characteristics and effects in the health that the tobacco products have. In addition, descriptive terms or elements, trademarks, designs, and terms such as ultra-light, light, soft or light cannot be included. The above, in order to indicate that one product is less harmful than another.

The packaging and labels must contain health warnings occupying 50% or more of the total surface area of the packaging. But why is it that this law can be controversial? It derives from the main prohibition of placing the name of the brand and its design, since it is considered that it is less attractive for consumers to see a neutral package. It is important to mention that this neutral packaging must be regulated by the corresponding national authority.

However, the producer and the consumer are directly affected. At the end, the purpose of a brand is to identify a product and not only with its name, but also with the colors and designs that accompany it. Through the recognition that a brand has acquired, the consumer decides which product to purchase, from the full range of options that he has, taking in consideration quality, price, like, and knowing the guarantee that the same brand offers.

As a result, intellectual property rights acquired are violated, since owners are prohibited from making use of their trademark in the way it was protected. On the other hand, neutral packaging can be considered as a way of limiting the use of a brand, since there are special requirements for its use.

Therefore, there must be a balance. It is evident that health is fundamental and primordial. However, it is necessary to analyze if the objective can be achieved, restricting or prohibiting the use of a brand to avoid tobacco consumption, or there are other ways to minimize consumption, such as tax increases, awareness campaigns and rehabilitation programs.

In Guatemala, the Law on Tobacco Control and its products is still an initiative of law, under number 5461. We must wait for the law to be fully discussed by the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala and subsequently approved.

Elizabeth Flores Barrios
Associate
García & Bodán
Guatemala

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