Big tobacco’s attempt to overturn the Federal Government’s plain packaging laws has been thrown out in a ruling issued this morning by the High Court.
The laws, which come into effect on 1 December, will see plain packaging enforced on tobacco products preventing companies from using brand marks or logos on packs and restricting them to standardised olive green packaging.
British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco Australia launched counteraction against the Government’s Tobacco Plain Packaging Act in April, arguing that it was unconstitutional to deny them the use of trademarked material.
Witholding reasons reasons for the decision until a later date, the Court ruled against the appeal simply, indicating a majority found the legislation not contrary to Section 51(xxxi) of the Constitution.
The decision is expected to have influence on similar moves being considered in the United Kingdom and New Zealand and will set a precedent globally, barring a successful appeal from big tobacco in their last avenue of recourse – an appeal to the World Trade Organisation.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the victory would stop cigarette packets from being “mobile billboards” but reiterated the legislation would not extend to other categories, such as alcohol or fast food.
“Plain packaging is a vital preventative public health measure, which removes the last way for big tobacco to promote its deadly products,” Roxon said. “Over the past two decades, more than 24 different studies have backed plain packaging, and now it will finally become a reality.”
“The message to the rest of the world is big tobacco can be taken on and beaten. Without brave governments willing to take the fight up to big tobacco, they’d still have us believing that tobacco is neither harmful nor addictive.”
BAT Australia spokesman Scott McIntyre said the only winners from the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act (TPP) would be criminals who sell illegal cigarettes around Australia. “We still believe the government had no right to remove a legal company’s intellectual property but BATA will comply with this and every other law.”
According to the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) the decision will have detrimental and unintended consequences on Australian retailers. “Retailers now face the costs of plain packaging transactions which will see a significant increase in the time taken to complete a transaction as all products will be near identical,” ARA’s executive director Russell Zimmerman said. “Transaction time increases are estimated to cost businesses up to half a billion dollars, which is the equivalent of 15,000 jobs.”
“While the retail industry is supportive of initiatives which demonstrate a positive effect on health, smaller retailers are simply in no position to take on costs as a result of duplicate laws which cancel each other out and bring no demonstrable benefit to public health,” Zimmerman added.