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BAT Wins Australia Court Hearing on Plain Cigarette-Packaging Legislation

May 31, 2011

British American Tobacco Plc (BATS)’s Australian unit won an appeals court hearing in a bid to force the government to turn over documents relating to a plan to restrict cigarette sales to plain packages.

The Full Federal Court of Australia agreed to hear the request, according to a letter from Judge Shane Marshall, provided by British American Tobacco. No date has been set for the hearing, the company said.

Parliament is set to vote on the law in the Australian winter to limit cigarette packaging to plain dark-olive coloring with pictorial health warnings instead of company logos, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said last month. British American Tobacco has sought the legal advice the government received on the plan under Australia’s Freedom of Information Act and has been denied, the company said.

British American Tobacco “suspects that Minister Roxon hasn’t released the legal advice because it’s likely to demonstrate her plain packaging laws are flawed,” the company said in today’s statement.

Health Ministry officials didn’t respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment.

The Australian proposal is the first in the world aimed at banning logos and color variations on cigarette packages.New ZealandCanada and the U.K. had considered the move but dropped it out of concern it would be illegal, British American Tobacco said. The Australian proposal may infringe international trademark and intellectual property laws, the tobacco company said.

The name of the cigarette brand would be printed in a uniform font at the bottom of the package. The legislation, if passed in parliament, will take effect Jan. 1.

The government plans to spend more than A$10 million ($10.7 million) on legal fees fighting opposition to the proposal, British American Tobacco said, citing documents obtained through the FOI process.

The case is British American Tobacco Australia Ltd. v. Secretary, Department of Health and Ageing. VID314/2011. Federal Court of Australia (Melbourne).

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