Addictive labelling

For tobacco companies, it seems there is no such thing as bad publicity. Except when it comes to their brand names.

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In a memorable scene from the 2007 film Thank you for smoking, Big Tobacco spokesman Nick Naylor is reassured by his boss: "We don't sell Tic Tacs, we sell cigarettes. And they're cool, available and addictive. The job is almost done for us."

The message was clear: tobacco companies are confident their product will sell despite all the negative news associated with smoking, no matter what doctors say or whatever health warnings are plastered on cigarette packs. Except it now appears that, after all the lawsuits and payouts, Big Tobacco does have its weak point. It likes to see its name in lights.

Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, is threatening to sue the Australian government over a plan to introduce plain, logo-less packaging for cigarettes, claiming that such a move would violate an agreement between Australia and Hong Kong, where the company is based.

It's just one example of governments taking on the industry. As The National reported earlier this month, the UAE may follow other countries by requiring cigarette packs to carry images of smoke-damaged organs by the end of the year.

But it is often said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Tobacco firms seem to think grisly photos next to their brand names are preferable to no logo at all. Despite all the bad PR, Philip Morris still believes that cigarettes sell themselves.