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December 6th, 2016:

WTO Delays Ruling In High-Stakes Tobacco Packaging Battle

The World Trade Organization will not issue a ruling on whether Australia’s “plain packaging” tobacco law usurps foreign companies’ intellectual property rights until May, according to WTO documents circulated Tuesday, delaying a decision that was slated to arrive by the end of 2016.

A single WTO panel is weighing cases launched by the governments of Indonesia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Honduras asserting that Australian laws that ban all distinct branding from cigarette packages in favor of graphic warnings about the danger of the products. The case has teed up a high-stakes fight over the intersection of intellectual property rights and public health safeguards.

There is no precedent for such a law being challenged in Geneva, and the panel apparently needs more time to parse through the various legal issues at play.

“The panel wishes to advise that it now expects to issue its final report to the parties not before May 2017, in light of the complexity of the legal and factual issues that arise in this dispute,” the panel said in a statement circulated to the WTO.

Australia passed its packaging law in 2011 despite the protestations of numerous multinational corporations who viewed the measure as a direct threat to their use of trademarks and other branding mechanisms to promote their business. The four countries have said the law violates the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, as well as the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

At every step of the way, Australia has claimed that it has the right to curtail businesses’ trademarks in the name of public health. For the first time in the WTO’s history, the panel will have to grapple with how the TRIPS Agreement comports with a country’s right to pursue policy objectives that it deems necessary to safeguard the public’s welfare.

The legal battles over the plain packaging law began almost as soon as it went into effect, beginning with a case filed by Philip Morris Asia Ltd. under the Hong Kong-Australia bilateral investment treaty.

In that case, the panel handed a win to Australia, albeit on jurisdictional grounds, meaning that the WTO’s decision will likely be the first ruling to address the issue on the merits. Even when the decision does come down, the case will be far from settled as all parties will be entitled to a round of appeals.

Nevertheless, the case will continue to be closely watched not only by the litigants and others in the tobacco industry, but also by those companies selling products that could e subject to similar public health rules, such as alcoholic beverages or fatty and sugary foods.

–Editing by Katherine Rautenberg.

Michael Bloomberg Pledges $360 Million To Fight Tobacco

Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New Y ork City, has declared was on tobacco use around the world. The billionaire philanthropist has donated $360 million to fight tobacco use around the world.

The funds will be distributed from 2017 through 2022 and will be used for a campaign to promote higher tobacco taxes and laws banning smoking in public in poorer nations. As mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg pushed through significant increases in that city’s tobacco taxes.

While Western nations and their cities have engaged in aggresive anti-smoking campaigns over the last forty years, banning public smoking, increasing taxes and so forth, the developing world has lagged far behind in the global efforts to curb smoking.

“Reducing tobacco use is one of our greatest opportunities to save lives and prevent suffering, because we know that strong policies really do make a difference,” Bloomberg said. “Since we began working ten years ago to pass effective tobacco measures around the world, global sales of cigarettes have declined after a century of steadily increasing. The tide is turning on tobacco, but we still have a long way to go – especially in low- and middle-income countries that are home to 75% of the world’s smokers and where tobacco companies are working harder than ever to find new customers.”

He has now donated almost $1 billion to his anti-tobacco crusade.

The Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use boasts that to date it has successfully supported 59 countries in passing laws or policies, reaching nearly 3.5 billion people and saving an estimated 30 million lives.

Bloomberg Philanthropies sates that it has aided 39 countries in passing smoke-free laws. These nations include Turkey, where a survey found that the number of smokers declined by 1.2 million from 2008 to 2012. The foundation also reports that 32 countries have passed laws requiring graphic warning labels on tobacco packages, like India, which implemented such warnings covering 85% of both sides of cigarette packages. Also, 22 nations have passed bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, like Brazil. Major cities like Beijing and Shanghai have also passed legislation mandating smoke-free places.

In 2003, as mayor of New Y ork, Michael Bloomberg signed the New Y ork City Smoke-Free Air Act banning smoking in bars and restaurants. By 2013, the Bloomberg Administration increased the tax on cigarettes, launched anti-smoking advertising campaigns, and distributed free nicotine patches. Statistics show that these moves led to an overall smoking decline in the city of 28%, from 21.5% in 2002 to 13.9% in 2014. There were more than 400,000 fewer smokers in 2014 than in 2002. Teen smoking fell by more than 50% from 2001 to 2013.

“Mike Bloomberg has spent over a decade leading the fight against the harms of tobacco throughout the world,” said philanthropist and anti-tobacco partner Bill Gates.

“Tobacco-caused diseases are one of the greatest health challenges facing low and middle income countries. The good news is Bloomberg Philanthropies and its partners know how to implement proven solutions. Thanks to Mike Bloomberg, millions of lives will be saved.”

e-Cigarettes Not the Panacea They Are Claimed to Be, Expert Says

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