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UK charity backs tobacco packaging law

CLAIMS that the tobacco industry will be able to sue the British government if it passes a law on Australian-style plain packaging are “ludicrous and unjustified”, an anti-smoking charity says.

ACTION on Smoking and Health says the legislation, which will be debated by MPs on Monday, is entirely compatible with European law and compensation would therefore not be due.

Finland and France have also indicated they will follow the lead set by Australia, which introduced plain packaging in 2012.

Professor Alberto Alemanno, an expert in EU law, said there was such strong evidence to support the new law that any challenge from the tobacco industry would be unlikely to succeed.

“Our analysis demonstrates that, under current EU law, the UK Government is entitled to regulate the packaging of tobacco products well beyond what the EU prescribes,” Prof Alemanno, of HEC Paris, said.

“The UK Government therefore enjoys considerable freedom of action in regulating the presentation of tobacco products, particularly given the overwhelming evidence of the harm that tobacco consumption causes.”

He said the proposals are also admissible under EU law relating to both trademarks and the issue of fundamental rights, which do not prevent member states from introducing legislation to protect public health.

“The legal opinion we are publishing today blows out of the water the ludicrous and unjustified claims by the tobacco industry that it would be due billions of pounds in compensation if the UK proceeds with standardised packaging,” Ash chief executive Deborah Arnott said.

Earlier this week, Ireland became the first country in Europe to ban branded cigarette packets, but is already facing a legal challenge over claims it infringes trademarks and the free movement of goods across the EU.

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