New Australia smoking law bans brand labels

 

Tough anti-smoking laws banning brand labels passed their last major legislative hurdle in Australia and immediately faced the threat of court action from tobacco companies worried the move could spread and hurt sales elsewhere.

The upper house of parliament agreed on new laws that from December next year will force cigarettes to be sold in plain olive packets, with no mention of the brand. They 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 told reporters.

"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."

The Senate vote is the last major hurdle for the new rules, although they must now be rubber stamped by parliament's lower house in two weeks.

The laws are being closely watched by governments considering similar moves in Europe, Canada and New Zealand, and have angered tobacco companies which plan to challenge the decision. Some countries are threatening to take Australia to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Himalayan nation of Bhutan banned the sale of tobacco outright earlier this year.

Tobacco giants British American Tobacco, Britain's Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris have all threatened to go to court and seek billions in compensation, arguing that the new rules restrict their trademark and intellectual property rights.

"We are disappointed that this bill has been passed - despite there being no apparent evidence this move will make any difference to public health," British American Tobacco Australiasaid in a statement.

"British American Tobacco Australia has always said that it wanted to avoid having to go to court but, if pushed to do so, it will take all appropriate legal measures to defend its intellectual property, valuable brands and right to compete as a legitimate business selling a legal product."

The governments of Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Ukraine have also lobbied against Australia's laws and threatened a WTO challenge.

British American Tobacco spokesman Scott McIntyre said the laws would create a black market for tobacco, which would force down prices 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 organised gang activity on the black market and increased smoking rates in young people," he said.

Australia already has graphic health warnings on cigarette packets, along with 41 other countries which have mandated smoking health warnings. The new packaging rules start in December 2012.

The World Health Organization in 2005 urged countries to consider plain packaging, and estimated more than 1 billion are regular smokers, 80 percent of them in poor countries.

Analysts say tobacco companies are worried that plain packaging could spread to important emerging markets like Brazil, Russia and Indonesia, and threaten growth there.

Legal experts said challenges would likely fail.

"In my opinion, the tobacco industry's threat of litigation is largely vexatious," said Matthew Rimmer, associate professor of law at the Australian National University.

He said WTO action would also likely fail, as its 1994 intellectual property rights agreement gives governments the right to pass laws to protect public health.

Australia already bans tobacco advertising, smoking in public buildings and the public display of cigarettes in shops. In some states, it is illegal to smoke in a car if a child is a passenger.

Australia wants to cut the number of people who smoke from around 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.

Australia's tobacco market generated total revenues of around $10 billion in 2009, up from A$8.3 billion in 2008, although smoking generally has been in decline. Around 22 billion cigarettes are sold in the country each year.

Reuters

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are working with this Co-educatio...

Tradewind Recruitment: Textiles

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We require a teacher of Textiles for this c...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We require a teacher of English for this co...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Service General Administrator

£16000 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea