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Australia tobacco law did not infringe rights – court

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia did not infringe tobacco companies’ intellectual property rights by forcing them to sell cigarettes in plain packets, Australia’s highest court said on Friday, killing off any domestic challenge to the plain-packet ruling.

Australia’s highest court in August dismissed a challenge by international cigarette companies to tough anti-tobacco marketing laws in a major test case that means from December 1, cigarettes and tobacco products must be sold in plain green packets with graphic health warnings, such as pictures of mouth cancer and other smoking-related illnesses.

Tobacco giants British American Tobacco, Britain’s Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco challenged the laws, saying the rules were unconstitutional because they effectively acquired their intellectual property rights.

The High Court, in details of its ruling in a full judgement handed down on Friday, dismissed that argument.

“Although the Act regulated the plaintiffs’ intellectual property rights and imposed controls on the packaging and presentation of tobacco products, it did not confer a proprietary benefit or interest on the Commonwealth or any other person,” the court said in a statement.

The decision is a blow to tobacco companies and ends any domestic Australian challenges to plain packaging.

A spokesman for British American Tobacco Australia said the new regulations would have serious unintended consequences regardless of the reasons for the court decision.

The laws are in line with World Health Organisation recommendations and are being watched closely by Britain, Norway, New Zealand, Canada and India, which are considering similar measures to help fight smoking.

(Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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