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Plain-packaging cigarette challenge in Australia’s high court

Proposed cigarette packaging in Australia


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Plain-packaging cigarette challenge in Australia’s high court” was written by Alison Rourke in Sydney, for guardian.co.uk on Tuesday 17th April 2012 01.14 UTC

Four tobacco companies have launched their bid to stop the introduction of cigarette plain-packaging in Australia’s high court.

In a world first, Australia has legislated for cigarettes to be sold from this December in drab olive packs with large health warnings and no brand logos. Only company names will be permitted on packets in small, standard font.

The high court action is being watched closely around the world as a test case on plain packaging. The case, brought by British American Tobacco (BAT), Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International will claim the new laws are unconstitutional and mean the government will illegally acquire their intellectual property without compensation.

“As a legal company selling a legal product we have continually said we will defend our property on behalf of our shareholders as any company would,” said BAT spokesman, Scott McIntyre, who described the action as a “test case” for all of its brands.

The government denies its legislation is unconstitutional and says it will “vigorously defend” the validity of plain packaging. When if filed its court submissions in early April, the government said plain packaging was a legitimate measure designed to “achieve the protection of public health”.

Attorney General, Nicola Roxon, who, as health minister was the architect of the plain packaging legislation, described the case as a “big battle”. It is due to run until Thursday.

“We believe we can do something that will reduce the (15,000) deaths in Australia that occur every year from tobacco-related disease,” she told ABC television.

British-Australian barrister, Geoffrey Robertson, also speaking on ABC TV, said he thought the government would win the case. He described the plain packaging laws as “a brilliant Australian idea”.

The high court action in Australia coincides with the launch of a British consultation process, which will examine whether tobacco companies should follow suit with plain packaging in the United Kingdom.

More than 100,000 people die from smoking related deaths in the UK each year. The consultation process has been widely welcomed by anti-smoking groups but condemned by some members of the Conservative party who say plain packaging would infringe the rights of international business and set a dangerous precedent.

In Britain around 22% of the adult population smokes according to Cancer Research UK. In Australia, 15% of adults smoke compared to 23% a decade ago.

Australia already has some of the toughest smoking regulations in the world.

Cigarettes in Australia must be sold behind closed doors in retail outlets and advertising and sponsorship deals are banned. It’s illegal to smoke in any public places including bars, restaurants or entertainment venues. In some places local councils have banned smoking is banned in parks and outdoor areas.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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