Branding Ban: Australia To Require "Universal" Faceless Cigarette Packs

Starting later this year, all cigarettes sold in Australia must be packaged in absolutely identical greenish packets. Ciggies without a brand? Some say it could quietly kill the pleasure.

Anna Lietti

In hindsight, we look back at the camels and pyramids on Camel cigarette packets (just looking I said, no need to send in the army) and find it quite surprising that Egypt has never thought of demanding a 1% cut on all cigarettes sold. And the traveling community: What are they waiting for to launch a protest against the misuse of the gypsy image?

The Australian government, at any rate, doesn't intend to let kangaroos bounce unpunished across French packets of Winfield cigarettes; they won't allow their national symbol to be associated with the deadly product.

When it comes to the war on tobacco, Australia is the place to be. 2012 is going to be a good year for this country down-under, which is testing out the smoke-free world of tomorrow. The new law, which will come into force in December, offers a new outlook likely to change the face of modernity: Cigarettes of all brands will be sold in identical green-grey packets (which will obviously be covered with sweeping assertions about your imminent death).

I contemplate this new perspective with fascinated curiosity. Cigarettes without a brand? That's as unthinkable as a roast dinner without its smell. I am reminded of my 20-year-old self, dithering over two brands like they were dresses: Gauloise or Gitane? Which one suits me best? And then, unexpectedly, I discovered a third brand that was destined to mark me out as someone special. It was so effective that even now people say to me in a slightly dreamy way: "I remember you: you used to smoke Craven As!"

Of course, all that had nothing to do with the actual taste of the cigarettes. Not even a little bit? Less than you would imagine. An expert in the field explained to me that in blind tests, most people not only don't recognize their favorite brand, but they can't even distinguish between light and dark tobacco.

It is all about the brand and nothing to with the quality of the product, cigarette or not. That is a basic law of the consumer society. This is why the Australians, with their identical packets of cigarettes, are going to offer the world a completely new experience.

In kangaroo-land, cigarette buyers are going to find themselves faced with a wall of almost indistinguishable packets. For older shoppers who travelled before the fall of the Berlin Wall, this will surely remind them of the dreary appearance of the shops in East Berlin or Moscow. But with just one difference: Hidden behind the identical packaging, there will be a multitude of (supposedly) different products. To tell one from another, all buyers will have left is the product name and a memory of what the brand once evoked, a memory which will soon become blurred.

We will therefore have buyers who, deprived of the brand's imagery, will be forced into making their choice based solely on the product itself: Something we have never seen since the creation of the consumer society. How will they react? Will they surprise themselves and hate the ones they thought they loved to the downfall of the market leaders? Or will they find that, disappointingly, all cigs taste the same?

I imagine that the (very few) smokers who read this article won't believe the blind testing anecdote. And yet the same thing happens with beer tasting.

But it goes without saying that for cigarette makers, the experience will be very useful.

Read the original article in French

Photo - furuikeya

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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