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High Court reserves decision on tobacco

19 April 2012

A TOBACCO company’s lawyer has brandished a packet of rat poison in the High Court to draw attention to the product’s lack of health warnings compared with planned requirements for cigarette packets.

After more than two days of hearings, Chief Justice Robert French today announced the court would reserve its decision on an appeal by tobacco companies against the federal government’s plain-packaging laws.

Earlier, Gavan Griffith QC, representing Japan Tobacco International, revealed he had ventured to Canberra’s Kingston shops to purchase a packet of Ratsak which he displayed to the court.

His action was a response to Commonwealth Solicitor-General Stephen Gageler, who argued that what the Commonwealth proposed was a regulation of a trade in the same manner that other products harmful to human health, such as rat poison, required warnings about safe handling.

Mr Griffith pointed to the poison warning on the Ratsak pack, saying it was very modest compared with what was required for cigarettes under the government’s plain-packaging legislation.

He offered to tender his Ratsak to the court, adding: “I do not invite your honours to open the pack.”

Four big tobacco companies are challenging the plain-packaging laws, which will require all cigarettes and tobacco products to be sold in drab olive-brown packs from December.

They are arguing the laws effectively mean the acquisition of their property, in the form of trademarks and logos, and would be unconstitutional unless just compensation was paid.

The case, which has drawn international attention, is being heard by the full bench of the High Court before a packed public gallery and an army of some 40 lawyers.

The lawyers represent British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International, Philp Morris and Imperial Tobacco Australia, the Commonwealth, as well as state and territory government and groups such as the Cancer Council of Australia.

Mr Griffith said the Commonwealth through the plain-packaging and health warnings was attempting to appropriate 100 per cent of the back of each packet and 70 per cent of the front.

“We say our trademarks are extinguished,” he told the court.

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