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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2039

Australia Win Landmark Trade Case on Tobacco Plain Packaging

by Manjari Peiris

A landmark Australian law on restrictive tobacco packaging has been upheld at the World Trade Organization (WTO) after a five-year legal battle. Thus it is decided that Australia's pioneering law requiring plain packaging for tobacco products does not violate international trade and intellectual property agreements.

If Australia has prevailed, it is a landmark victory in the global fight against tobacco use and a resounding defeat for the tobacco industry, which has fiercely fought plain packaging laws. To date, the tobacco industry has lost every legal challenge to plain packaging both in international and national courts, not only in Australia, but also in the United Kingdom, France, Ireland and the European Union.

A victory for Australia would provide a tremendous boost to the growing global movement to require that cigarettes and other tobacco products be sold in plain packaging, without colorful logos and other branding that attract youth, mislead consumers and increase the appeal of these deadly and addictive products. Plain packaging laws are both scientifically and legally sound. Other countries considering plain packaging should move forward with confidence that they can defeat tobacco industry challenges.

Tobacco companies have fought plain packaging because they know it works. After Australia implemented plain packaging and other tobacco control measures in 2012, public understanding of the dangers of tobacco use rose and smoking rates fell at the fastest pace in more than two decades.

According to scientific evidence tobacco companies rely on tobacco pack designs as a critical form of marketing. The companies exploit all elements of packaging, including the construction, outer film, tear tape, inner frame, pack inserts and onserts , branding information, and color schemes.

As part of a comprehensive set of tobacco control measures to reduce smoking rates, laws that mandate standardized or "plain" packaging for tobacco products are intended to reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products to consumers, increase the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings, and reduce the ability of the tobacco products and its packaging to mislead consumers about the harms of smoking.

The Government of Australia was the first country in the world to introduce and implement plain packaging for tobacco products. Research has begun to document the early impact of the law since its implementation in December 2012, summarized by Cancer Council Victoria.

Plain packaging laws subsequently have been implemented by France and the United Kingdom (the UK law takes full effect on May 21, 2017) and adopted, but not yet fully implemented, by Hungary, Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, Romania and Slovenia. Numerous other countries are considering such laws.

The WTO challenge against Australia was initiated by Ukraine, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia and Cuba on the basis of alleged breaches of international trade and intellectual property agreements. It has been reported that Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic received technical and financial support from British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International. It was also reported that Ukraine filed the complaint against Australia at the request of the American Chamber of Commerce, a group with a well-documented history of working on behalf of tobacco companies. Ukraine subsequently withdrew its complaint.

Tobacco use kills more than six million people worldwide each year and is projected to kill one billion people this century unless countries take strong action now to prevent it. Plain packaging is a bold strategy to save lives that should be implemented as a key element of a comprehensive approach to reducing tobacco use, along with graphic health warnings, advertising bans, higher tobacco taxes and 100 percent smoke-free laws.

Source of information: Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Washington

- Asian Tribune -

Australia  Win Landmark Trade Case on Tobacco Plain Packaging
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