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New laws needed to fight tobacco: lawyer

Australia should introduce far-reaching corruption and racketeering laws to fight the “dirty tactics” of tobacco firms, according to a leading lawyer.

Slater and Gordon senior partner Peter Gordon told an audience in Perth yesterday the federal government needed to get tough on the industry that “killed 15,000 Australians a year” and had proven to be deceptive.

He said Canberra should also hold firm on its plain-packaging legislation, passed last week, believing it would defeat any High Court action brought against it by the tobacco industry.

Advertisement: Story continues below Addressing an Australian Council on Smoking and Health forum at the University of Western Australia, Mr Gordon said the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (RICO) Act had been used by the US government to win a $US13 billion judgment against US tobacco firms in 2006, and Australia should do the same.

A US federal court judge found the tobacco firms had conspired to dupe consumers about the health risks of smoking.

“A lot of the practices which were found to be corrupt or wrongful practices within the meaning of the act were found by the judge to have happened in Australia,” Mr Gordon said.

“If there were such an act in Australia, there’s no reason why the same kind of redress could not be obtained here.”

Mr Gordon believed the government was on solid ground when it came the tobacco industry’s threats to sue it over plain-packaging laws.

“The tobacco companies say it is acquiring their property, which is a breach of the Constitution without just compensation,” he said.

“As I view it, no one wants to take their property away – they just want to stop them using it in a harmful way.”


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