Australian Senate Passes Toughest Cigarette Packaging Laws Yet
November 11, 2011

Australian Senate Passes Toughest Cigarette Packaging Laws Yet

Australia´s new anti-smoking laws banning brand labels its last major legislative hurdle on Thursday and immediately faced the threat of court action from tobacco companies afraid of flagging future sales.

Australia´s upper house of parliament agreed on new laws that will force cigarettes to be sold in plain olive packets, with no mention of the brand name starting December next year. The packages would continue to show graphic images of the harm smoking can cause.

“Big tobacco has been fuming since day one that this is a law that they don´t want introduced. They want to keep selling their deadly products, and we want to reduce their market. So we are destined to disagree,” Health Minister Nicola Roxon tells James Grubel of Reuters.

“But we are not going to be bullied into not taking this action, just because tobacco companies say they might fight it in the courts. We are ready for that if they take legal action.”

Under the new laws, no trademark brand logos will be permitted on any packaging of tobacco products, except for the company name and the cigarette brand in small, prescribed font on the packets. The carton packaging will continue to carry stark health warning messages and pictures, which will cover 75 percent of the front of the pack and 90 percent of the back of the boxes.

“The government can´t take away valuable property from a legal company without compensation,” Scott McIntyre, spokesman for British American Tobacco Australia, told The Guardian newspaper.

McIntyre said the company´s brands, including Winfield and Benson & Hedges, were worth billions of dollars. “We´re a legal company with legal products selling to adults who know the risks of smoking. We´re taking this to the high court because we believe the removal of our valuable intellectual property is unconstitutional,” he tells Alison Rourke of The Guardian.

Philip Morris Australia said the legislation left it little option but to pursue its compensation claim “through international arbitration against Australia and to also consider domestic legal action under Australian law”.

McIntyre said the laws would create a black market for tobacco, forcing prices down and see more people take up smoking. “In years to come, plain packaging will be remembered as the legislation which wasted billions of taxpayer´s dollars, caused uncontrollable growth in organized gang activity on the black market and increased smoking rates in young people,” he said.

Australian law currently favors the anti-smoking lobby with bans on tobacco advertising, smoking in public buildings and the public display of cigarettes in shops. The Australian government wants to cut the number of people who smoke from the current 15 percent of the population to 10 percent by 2018.

Health authorities say smoking kills 15,000 Australians each year with social and health costs of around $32 billion.

American health officials are closely watching the actions in Australia and planning their own legislative tactics to counter strong tobacco and pro-smoking lobbying efforts, AFP reports.