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Tribunal snuffs out latest bid against plain packaging

Tribunal snuffs out latest bid against plain packaging - Featured Image

The tobacco industry has lost out in its latest attempt to kill off Australia’s world-leading plain packaging laws.

A bid by tobacco giant Philip Morris to have plain packaging ruled invalid under the terms of Australia’s bilateral investment treaty with Hong Kong has been rejected by the Permanent Court of Arbitration sitting in Singapore.

The ruling is the latest setback for tobacco companies fighting a rearguard action against plain packaging measures, which are being adopted by a growing number of countries, including Britain and Ireland, after coming being enacted in Australia in 2012.

Under the laws, tobacco products must be sold in plain packets carrying graphic health warnings.

The measure has been vehemently opposed by the tobacco industry, which has claimed it infringes on copyright and will drive an increase in trade in illicit tobacco products.

Related: MJA – Association between tobacco plain packaging and Quitline calls: a population-based, interrupted time-series analysis

The arbitration ruling means the tobacco industry is running out of legal options to challenge plain packaging.

Soon after the legislation was passed in late 2011, British American Tobacco launched action in the High Court, but its bid was rejected.

Several tobacco-producing countries have also launched action against the legislation under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation, and this bid remains outstanding.

In its latest Position Statement on Tobacco Smoking and E-cigarettes, the AMA said tobacco companies had used packaging to convey messages around social status, values and character, and there were signs that forcing producers to use plain packaging was having an effect rates of smoking.

Related: MJA – The Australian’s dissembling campaign on tobacco plain packaging

A group of studies published in the British Medical Journal found that plain packaging reduced brand appeal and image, and indicated that the proportion of smokers who wanted to quit jumped 7 percentage points following the introduction of plain packaging.

The AMA said that although the measure has not been in place long enough to establish strong evidence of effectiveness, “preliminary research is very promising”.

In addition, it said there was no evidence that plain packaging had led to an increase in the consumption of illicit tobacco.

Adrian Rollins

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