Image Courtesy of Sophie Riches
Plain cigarette packaging regulations due to come into force in May 2016 are being challenged in the high court by four of the world’s largest tobacco companies.
Imperial Tobacco Group, British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International and Japan Tobacco International claim that the legislation aimed at discouraging smoking will unlawfully impact their trademark intellectual property by making their packets look the same.
The Chief Executive of anti smoking group ASH, Deborah Arnott, said:
“This is a desperate last ditch move by the tobacco companies to try to protect their right to promote their products in glitzy brightly coloured packaging, hoping that they will attract children and young people to become the next generation addicted to smoking.”
The disputed laws come as part of a government effort aimed primarily at discouraging young people from taking up the habit. Under existing laws tobacco products are kept behind screens and feature prominent health warnings but it is believed that plain packaging would further reduce the appeal to young people.
ASH is expected to provide evidence at the trial. It estimates that smoking accounts for 100,000 deaths every year, making it the leading cause for preventable deaths in the UK.
But David Anderson QC, representing the tobacco firms, told the High Court last week that the companies “manufacture lawful products” and that they contribute roughly ten billion pounds to the Exchequer.
A similar unsuccessful claim was made against Australia’s plain packaging regulations in 2012. It is believed that the country’s plain packaging laws have contributed to a significant reduction in smoking levels.
The expected six day hearing which began last Thursday at London’s High Court will be watched closely by industry and law makers as it will probably set a precedent for other European nations looking to introduce similar laws. A verdict will most likely be handed down early next year.