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New bid at WTO to halt plain cigarette packaging
New bid at WTO to halt plain cigarette packaging

The Dominican Republic has added its name to a growing list of countries opposing Australia's plans for plain cigarette packaging.

Lodging its dispute with the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, the Dominican Republic has requested talks with Australia "on certain measures concerning trademarks, geographical indications and other plain packaging requirements applicable to tobacco products and packaging", according to the arbiter.

The development follows similar requests by Ukraine and Honduras in March and April, the organisation said.

"Several other countries have requested to join in the consultations," the WTO added.

From December 1 2012, the Australian Government wants all cigarettes to be sold in drab olive-green packets with graphic health warnings.

If the dispute cannot be resolved through consultation, the complainants can request formal adjudication through a WTO panel, which could force Canberra to scrap the legislation.

Australia is the first country to mandate plain packaging and the move is being closely watched by other countries considering similar approaches, including Britain and Canada.

Australia estimates tobacco-related illnesses cause 15,000 deaths a year.

Meanwhile, Australian superannuation fund First State Super has wiped from its investment portfolios all companies involved in the manufacture of tobacco products, in a move welcomed by cancer specialists.

Chief executive Michael Dwyer said the decision to exclude the cigarette and tobacco companies from its entire investment portfolio followed strong feedback from the health industry, which represents about 40 per cent of the fund’s 770,000 members.

"In reaching its decision the Trustee Board had been particularly mindful of its many members who work in the health sector, especially members from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne,” Mr Dwyer said in a statement.

"Our decision reflects both the strong views expressed by our employers and members and our support for government initiatives to minimise tobacco consumption,” he said.

He said a review of each fund’s investment strategies showed excluding tobacco companies would not compromise returns.

"Our analysis shows there will be inconsequential financial impact from this decision for members investment returns.

"It adds to the decision that the exclusion of direct tobacco investments is unquestionably the right thing to do,” he said.

Cancer clinicians and researchers at Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre welcomed the announcement.
Health professionals, including specialists at Peter Mac, have urged all superannuation companies to exclude tobacco-related corporations from their default investment options.

Peter Mac radiation oncologist Dr Bronwyn King applauded First State Super for “breaking the mould".

She said the fund manages superannuation contributions for more than 300,000 Australian health workers and was the default fund for many Peter Mac staff.

Dr King said smoking was the single largest preventable cause of death in Australia, with more than 15,000 deaths in Australia caused by tobacco-related cancer and other lung diseases every year.

The chairman of Peter Mac’s Lung Service, Professor David Ball, said the move by First State “should be replicated across the superannuation industry".