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Big Tobacco is losing the fight to stop plain packaging of cigarettes

Dr Enrico Bonadio, a Senior Lecturer in the City Law School, says the tobacco industry’s bid to avoid plain packaging by relying on legal arguments around trade and intellectual property rights, is being systematically dismissed by courts around the world.

You may already have seen the tobacco packs currently sold in the UK: a dark, murky green colour with large graphic health-warning images and scary messages aimed at informing current and potential smokers about the devastating consequences of tobacco consumption. They have no colourful logos, with the brand name just displayed in small characters in a standard font.

These packs are now required by new regulations which entered into force in May 2016. There has been a one-year transitional period for the sell-through of old stock – and from May 20 2017 all tobacco products on sale in the UK must comply with the new rules.

The legislative move has been recommended to all countries by the World Health Organisation to reduce the attractiveness of smoking and eventually reduce consumption. Australia was the first country to introduce such strict packaging requirements in December 2012. France and, of course, the UK have since followed suit.

It follows significant research that shows these new standardised cigarette packs are much less appealing to consumers – and young people especially.
The industry’s legal defeats

No wonder tobacco companies have challenged the measure in the courts. They have argued that it is useless, too harsh – and is an infringement of their fundamental and intellectual property rights, especially trademarks. Yet, their claims are based on weak arguments and have been rejected by both the High Court of England and Wales and the Court of Appeal.

The tobacco industry has faced numerous courtroom defeats of late. Last year Uruguay won a landmark case against the Swiss giant Philip Morris International. The company had sued the Latin American state after it introduced two measures affecting tobacco packaging and trademarks. These were mandatory graphic health warnings covering 80% of cigarette packets (a measure very close to plain packaging) and the obligation for tobacco companies to adopt a single presentation for their brands, dropping for example the “gold” and “blue” descriptors, that could lead smokers to believe one variant was safer than another.

The fact that the courts sided with Uruguay would have been encouraging to other countries aiming to introduce controls on tobacco packaging. And even greater encouragement came recently from a World Trade Organisation ruling which deemed that the plain packaging requirements introduced by Australia as compliant with international trade and intellectual property rules – and are therefore a legitimate public health measure.

The decision has not been officially announced, but a confidential draft of the interim ruling was leaked to the media and the final decision is expected later this year. The Australian measure had been challenged at the WTO tribunal by Cuba, Dominican Republic, Indonesia and Honduras, countries whose economies strongly rely on the tobacco industry.

A domino effect

This is a blow to the industry. The short-term consequences of the WTO ruling – Imperial Tobacco’s shares fell more than 2% after the decision was leaked – reflects the longer-term danger that this ruling poses. It will likely convince other states to introduce plain packaging legislation without fear of violating international trade and intellectual property laws. It basically gives them a green light by removing the regulatory chilling effect that such legal action has produced on countries that wanted to follow Australia’s example.

After all, more and more countries seem interested in adopting standardised packaging. As well as France and the UK, Ireland and Norway will introduce packaging restrictions later in 2017, and Hungary in 2018. Many other states are debating similar measures, including New Zealand, Canada, Belgium, Slovenia, Belgium, Singapore and Thailand.

So, a legislative trend has started which aims to restrict the ability of tobacco manufacturers to make their products appealing to consumers by using eye-catching words, logos or ornamental features on the pack. And attempts by Big Tobacco to stop it by relying on legal arguments around trade and intellectual property rights are being systematically dismissed by courts around the world.

Ultimately, the industry needs to accept the fact that its ability to use fancy brands, especially on packaging, may be reduced by governments for public health reasons. Also that a company’s property rights are not absolute or untouchable. Not only does it not have enough legal basis – as has now been confirmed by several courts and tribunals – but it also disregards legitimate policies adopted by democratically elected governments.

Parliament adopts Standardised packaging to save lives and prevent suffering

Members of Parliament voted in favour of standardised packaging of tobacco products despite intense lobbying by the tobacco industry to sway politicians against the measure.

The snowball that was set in motion in Australia in 2012 rolled through Norway today. An overwhelming majority of Parliament endorsed recommendations formulated on 1 December 2016 by the parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Care Services. The measure will be introduced at the same time as the EU Tobacco Products Directive measures on packaging and labelling.

Tobacco advertising is deadly. It seeks to addict people to a product that kills almost half of its long-term users. Today, Norway becomes one of the first countries in the world to introduce standardised cigarette packs and the first country to standardise smokeless tobacco boxes. Smokeless tobacco use increased dramatically among young people in Norway during the last decade. The new measure will contribute to ensure that children and young people never start with tobacco and thus avoid tobacco-related suffering and death.

Anne Lise Ryel, Secretary General of the Norwegian Cancer Society said: “Norwegian politicians have taken a historic step forward to reduce the consequences of tobacco advertising. Advertising works, especially with children. Norway was the first country in the world to introduce bans on all traditional forms of advertising of tobacco products. Ever since, cigarette packs have become mini billboards for tobacco industry marketing. With this morning’s event, the tobacco industry loses its last vehicle to lure children into addiction, disease and possibly death. This is truly a ground-breaking public health reform, and a landmark day for the cancer cause”.

The Norwegian Cancer Society congratulated Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie for his leadership in support of the measure in the face of persistent pressure and campaigning from the tobacco industry.

Medical chiefs want total ban on tobacco sales to anyone born after the year 2000

The proposal is aimed at stopping people taking up smoking, with Norwegian health experts hoping to stamp out the habit by 2035

Medical chiefs are calling for a complete ban on tobacco sales to anyone born after the year 2000.

The controversial proposal, in Norway, is backed by six out of ten people in the wealthy Scandinavian country.

Norwegian Medical Association president Marit Hermansen said: “It is not a basic human right to begin using tobacco.

“We have long had the policy of phasing out smoking by 2035. This is a measure to achieve this goal.

“It shouldn’t be forbidden to smoke, but we want young people to not get started with tobacco.”

But while the majority of Norwegians agree the NMA, Health Minister Bent Hoie told the Aftenposten newspaper that the government currently has no plans to take up any legislation that would lead to a ban of tobacco sales.

In Britain, new rules banning e-cigarette advertising and ordering that all cigarettes are sold in plain packets come into force in May.

But tobacconists have a year’s grace period to sell their old stock.

Then by 2020, packs of ten cigarettes and menthol cigarettes will be banned and rolling tobacco must come in at least 30g packs.

They form part of the EU ’s aim to slash the number of smokers across Europe by 2.4 million and combat an estimated 700,000 premature deaths caused each year by

New Zealand, Norway Plan to Require Plain Packs for Tobacco

New Zealand and Norway intend to force tobacco companies to remove branding on cigarette packets and other tobacco products as more countries follow the lead of Australia across the world.

The New Zealand government, which aims to become a smoke-free nation by 2025, is proposing plain cigarette packaging with all tobacco imagery removed and with prominent and gruesome health warnings covering at least 75 percent of the front of the packs. The Norwegian government will send a bill to parliament in June that would strip tobacco products of logos, Health Minister Bent Hoeie said at a conference in Oslo Tuesday.

Australia has led the way in plain packaging after legal challenges failed to overturn new tobacco branding laws there. The U.K., Ireland and France were the first European countries to back the measure, which prompted legal challenges from cigarette makers including Philip Morris International Inc. and British American Tobacco Plc.

“The louder they scream, the more effective the measure must be,” said Douglas Bettcher, a World Health Organization director who spoke in Oslo on the occasion of World No-Tobacco Day. “The tobacco industry’s nightmares are in fact lifesavers.”

Brand names will be allowed in New Zealand but regulations will standardize printing and placement, Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga said. The regulations are expected to take effect after legislation is passed later this year, he added.

New Zealand announced last week that the tax on tobacco will be increased by 10 percent each year for the next four years, driving the price for a standard pack of 20 cigarettes up to around NZ$30 ($20).

Norway will require cigarettes and snus — a form of smokeless tobacco — to be sold in dark green packs. Young people in the country have been smoking less though their use of snus has increased dramatically in the past decade, according to the government.

“It will look like the addictive and dangerous product it is,” Norwegian Health Minister Hoeie said. “We are moving toward a smoke-free generation. Someday tobacco will look as unbelievably outdated as smoking in airplanes.”

Government plans to file plain-pack bill in June

Health Minister Bent Hoeie told an Oslo conference the government will submit a bill to parliament in June to remove branding from tobacco products, said the news agency Bloomberg.

Norway had promised an announcement on plain packaging on 31 May, designated World No Tobacco Day by the World Health Organisation. This year’s them is the adoption of plain packaging. New Zealand also announced it would revive a plain packaging proposal it shelved in 2013 to await resolution of legal issues.

Countries that have passed uniform packaging laws include Australia, which in 2011 became the first country to do so, Ireland, Britain and France.

Norway to Detail Progress on Plain Packaging of Tobacco May 31

The Norwegian government will discuss the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products next week, as the Nordic nation seeks to become the latest country to stamp out one of the last remaining vestiges of cigarette marketing.

The Norwegian health minister will present new research and provide an update on legislation to require the sale of cigarettes in packages without logos Tuesday in Oslo, the ministry said in a statement Thursday. On May 31 the World Health Organization celebrates World No-Tobacco Day, an annual event created in 1987 that publicizes the dangers of smoking.

Cigarette makers Philip Morris International Inc., Imperial Brands Plc and British American Tobacco Plc lost a fight against European Union curbs on their products in a ruling earlier this month that may pave the way for governments to impose plain packaging. The U.K. and Ireland together with France are the first European countries to back the measure, which tobacco companies claim violates their intellectual property rights.

Tobacco companies also lost a case in a U.K. court to suspend Britain’s plain packaging rules, which require smokes to be sold in drab packages with large health warnings.

Disgraceful effort to privilege tobacco business interests over public health has rightly failed utterly – other countries to follow UK lead

The High Court challenge to the Regulations on Standardized Plain tobacco packaging by the tobacco industry met with a humiliating defeat on Thursday, 19th of May 2016.

Thus the landmark judgment in the case will help other countries looking forward to introduce Plain Packaging. France and the Republic of Ireland have already passed legislations and other countries including Canada, Hungary, Norway and Solvenia, are expected to follow soon.

It is learnt that tobacco industry has spent millions of pounds on some of the most expensive lawyers in the country with the hope of blocking the policy. This landmark judgment is a severe defeat for the tobacco industry and it fully justifies the determination of the government to go ahead with the introduction of standardized packaging.

The standardized packaging regulations would come into effect in the UK on Friday, the 20th May 2016. All cigarettes manufactured for sale in the UK after this date must comply with standardized packaging regulations. Cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco will be sold in drab brown packages which have had all the attractive features and colours removed.

The judgment by the Justice Green rejects every argument the industry put forward in court. It is highly critical of the industry’s use of expert evidence it commissioned to back its case and its failure to disclose any internal assessments on how packaging design works for children and young people what the effect on standardized packaging on sales is likely to be. The judgment also notes that the great mass of the expert evidence put to the court by the tobacco industry was neither peer reviewed nor published in an appropriate scientific of technical journal.

At present two thirds of current smokers started when they were children and research shows that dull standardized packs are less attractive to young people. The tobacco industry is now considering whether or not to appeal.

Source of Information: Action on Smoking & Health ASH – UK

– Asian Tribune –

Norway under pressure to ban sale of tobacco to adults

Medics say access to tobacco is ‘not a basic human right’

Norway’s biggest medical organisation wants to ban the sale of cigarettes to adults.

In a drive towards a smoke-free society by 2035, the Norwegian Medical Association (NMA) is pressing the government to back its proposal for a ban on tobacco sales to citizens born after the year 2000.

Marit Hermansen, the president of the NMA, told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten that access to cigarettes was not a basic human right.

“We have long had the policy of phasing out smoking by 2035. This is a measure to achieve this goal. We want a tobacco-free generation,” she said, according to The Local.

“It shouldn’t be forbidden to smoke, but we want young people to not get started with tobacco.”

They hope the proposed legislation will mean future generations are unable to buy tobacco in Norway when they reach 18 years old, which is the current age limit. Given the choice of 2000, the law would technically come in to until 2018.

“The [health] minister has said that the main objective is to hinder young people from beginning to smoke,” Ms Hermansen told Aftenposten.

“That means that when the new generations come of age, they won’t be able to buy tobacco in Norway.”

The emphasis will be on denying access to the substances, rather than criminalising use, she added according to The Nordic Page.

In 2013, about 32 per cent of the Norwegian population were smokers – a steady decline from 36 per cent in 2008.

Among young people, seven per cent had reported that they smoked daily, the Nordic Page reported.

Yet despite the NMA’s hopes, health spokespeople for the Conservative, Labour, Centre and Christian Democrats parties in the country told Aftenposten the idea was not currently feasible.

In the UK, meanwhile, eight percent of 15-year-olds smoked regularly in 2014 – a significant decline compared to the 20 percent who were smoking eight years earlier.

Plain Packaging – International Overview

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World Medical Association supports growing moves for plain tobacco packaging

The World Medical Association has supported the increasing number of countries planning to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products, including Australia and France. This week it joined the Norwegian Medical Association in supporting proposals to introduce plain packaging in Norway.

The WMA, in Oslo this week for its 200th Council meeting, was responding to a public consultation by the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services suggesting that all tobacco products sold in Norway should have standardized packaging. The goal is to prevent tobacco use among children and young people. The consultation also discusses the possibility of stopping the influence of the tobacco industry on tobacco policy.

Dr. Xavier Deau, President of the WMA, said: ‘The WMA strongly supports this proposal for plain packaging. Four years ago we called on all national governments to follow the example of the Australian Government in introducing plain packaging to break the brand recognition and smoking cycle. We also deplored the legal moves being taken by the tobacco industry to oppose this.

Now we have evidence from Australia that plain packaging does lead to a reduction in the take up of cigarettes and tobacco.’

WMA policy declares that cigarettes are a serious threat to the life and health of individuals who use them and a considerable cost to the health care services of every country. It says that those who smoke predominantly start to do so while adolescents and that there is a proven link between brand recognition and likelihood of starting to smoke. And it adds that brand recognition is strongly linked to cigarette packaging and that plain packaging reduces the impact of branding, promotion and marketing of cigarettes.

Dr. Hege Gjessing, President of the Norwegian Medical association, said: ‘I welcome the WMA’s support. Tobacco is a serious threat to people’s health. The Norwegian Medical Association has a long history of supporting restrictions on tobacco. We supported the ban on tobacco advertising in 1973, and then we supported the ban on smoking in aeroplanes and the ban on smoking in restaurants.’