August 15, 2012

Australia Court Upholds Strict Tobacco Packaging Laws

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

As of December 1, 2012, tobacco products in Australia will be sold in plain olive green packets with graphic health warnings, according to a new high court ruling.

On Wednesday, the Australia court dismissed a challenge from global tobacco manufacturers regarding the new packaging regulations, which will feature graphic images like mouth cancer and other smoking-related illnesses.

The law could have a major effect if it is adopted as a precedent in other countries, especially untapped markets.

The Australia laws fall in line with the World Health Organization recommendations, and are being watched closely by countries like Britain, Norway, New Zealand, Canada and India.

Tobacco companies challenged the laws in Australia's High Court, claiming that the new regulations were unconstitutional because they effectively extinguished their intellectual property rights.

The High Court said in a statement that a majority of its seven judges believed the laws did not breach Australia's constitution.

According to WHO estimates, over 1 billion people in the world are regular smokers, and 80 percent of them are in low- and middle-income countries.

"Without brave governments willing to take the fight up to big tobacco, they'd still have us believing that tobacco is neither harmful nor addictive," Australian Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said in a statement after the ruling.

A report produced by the World Lung Foundation and the American Cancer Society found that 17 percent of male deaths, and 14 percent of female deaths in Australia are due to tobacco.

"We hope other nations follow Australia's lead and eliminate the use of tobacco packaging as a marketing tool, to help reduce the global tobacco death toll -- which is on track to reach half a billion people this century," Australia's Cancer Council chief executive Ian Olver said in a statement.

Other countries could be influenced by Australia's decision, including New Zealand. The country's Associate Health Minister said Australia's ruling gives New Zealand more confidence to push ahead with similar measures.

Tobacco companies believe that plain packaging laws violate their intellectual property rights, and could lead to illegally imported cigarettes.

"It's still a bad law that will only benefit organized crime groups, which sell illegal tobacco on our streets," British American Tobacco Australia spokesman Scott McIntyre said in a statement after the decision.

Tobacco company Philip Morris said it would launch a legal challenge against the laws under a bilateral Australia-Hong Kong investment agreement.

"There is still a long way to go before all the legal questions about plain packaging are fully explored and answered," Philip Morris spokesman Chris Argent said in a statement.

On top of upholding the ruling, the court also ordered tobacco companies to pay the government's legal fees.

Australia's approach to limit tobacco use is considered to be the strictest in the world. Starting in December, the packages will come in a uniformly shade of olive green, featuring health warnings and graphic photographs. The government believes this packing will make smoking less glamorous.