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Big tobacco loses plain packaging challenge
Big tobacco loses plain packaging challenge

Cigarettes will be sold in plain packaging from December after the High Court this morning dismissed the tobacco industry’s challenge to the world-first laws.

A majority of justices rejected manufacturers’ argument that laws were unconstitutional. The court did not publish the reasons for its decision.

The industry had argued the Government failed to acquire their trade marks on “just terms” and claimed they were entitled to billions of dollars in compensation.

The decision means that from October, cigarettes made in Australia will need to be packaged in drab brown boxes featuring standard fonts and larger graphic health warnings.

Logos, slogans, colours and other brandings will be banned.

From December all products on shelves will need to be in plain packaging.

Tobacco companies HAVE launched a legal challenge to plain packaging through international trade laws but these are likely to take years to be resolved.

Jonathan Liberman, the director of anti-smoking group McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, said the court’s decision was welcome and "resound globally" as other countries considered plain packaging.

"It shows to everybody that the only way to deal with tobacco industry claims, sabre rattling and legal threats is to stare them down in court," he said.

“It would be great if the tobacco industry would just say ‘We understand our products are addictive, they kill up to half of long term users and we will cop on the chin whatever the Government decides needs to be done to reduce their harm’.”

Mr Liberman was confident the Government would prevail in the trade disputes.

British American Tobacco Australia spokesman Scott McIntyre said THAT while the company respected the court’s decision, plain packaging remained a bad piece of law and would have serious unintended consequences.

“Although the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act passed the constitutional test it’s still a bad law that will only benefit organised crime groups which sell illegal tobacco on our streets,” he said.

“The illegal cigarette black market will grow further when all packs look the same and are easier to copy. Plain packaging will also put pressure on the industry to reduce legal tobacco prices.”

Chief Justice Robert French said the majority of justices found the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill was not in contravention of Section 51 of the Australian constitution.

The tobacco companies have been ordered to pay the Commonwealth's legal costs.

Health groups said the decision was a major win against smoking.

Australian Council on Smoking and Health president Mike Daube, who chaired the Federal Government committee which called for plain packaging, said the decision had global ramifications.

"Today’s High Court decision that tobacco plain packaging can proceed is a massive win for public health and also the global tobacco industry’s worst defeat yet," he said.

"The global tobacco companies have opposed plain packaging more ferociously than any other measure because they know that plain packaging will have a major impact on smoking here and other countries will follow.”

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Ian Olver said it was a landmark ruling that put public health before vested commercial interests.