Australia’s High Court Upholds Historic Cigarette Plain Packaging Laws

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On August 13, in a ruling hailed by health officials around the world, Australia’s highest court upheld the government’s tough new plain packaging act, which prohibits tobacco company logos, branding, colors and promotional text, and requires graphic health warnings, on cigarette and tobacco product packages.  The court rejected a challenge by four tobacco companies, including Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris Limited and British American Tobacco, which claimed the act violated their intellectual property rights and devalued their trademarks.  The Australian laws will take effect December 1, 2012.

Australia is the first nation to require plain packaging for tobacco products.  The ruling is a victory for the government:  tobacco-related illnesses are responsible for the deaths of an estimated 15,000 people in Australia each year and approximately $33 billion in annual health costs.  Australia Attorney General Nicola Roxon called the tobacco packaging decision “a watershed moment for tobacco control around the world” and said “The message to the rest of the world is Big Tobacco can be taken on and beaten.”  

Other countries, including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Norway, India, France, and Canada, are considering implementing similar legislation.   In 2011, the U.S. unveiled nine graphic health warning labels that must cover half the area of cigarette packages by September 2012.  Five tobacco manufacturers, including R.J. Reynolds, challenged the requirements on First Amendment grounds.  In February, a federal judge sided with the companies; the government’s appeal is pending.

>> Read more about the Australia plain packaging ruling.

>> Read reactions to Australia plain packaging ruling.