Cigarette companies lose Australian packaging appeal

Australia’s highest court has ruled that new laws requiring cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging without company logos do not violate the country’s constitution.

The court on Wednesday ruled against four tobacco companies that challenged the law, saying the measure violated their intellectual property rights.

The companies include British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris. They argue the new law will also make it easier to counterfeit cigarettes.

Beginning in December, cigarettes in Australia will be sold in uniform, olive green packages with graphic health warnings.

The government hopes the changes will help reduce the number of smokers in Australia, where smoking-related illnesses kill about 15,000 people each year.

Australian Attorney General Nicolas Roxon praised the ruling, saying it is a “watershed moment for tobacco control around the world.”

Australia is facing a potential challenge at the World Trade Organization over the new law. Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have argued the plain packaging requirements will unfairly restrict trade.

The United Nations health agency Wednesday applauded the decision.

In a statement strongly welcoming what she called a landmark ruling, Margaret Chan, World Health Organization director-general, called on other countries to follow Australia’s example and adopt an equally tough stance on tobacco marketing.

“With Australia’s victory, public health enters a brave new world of tobacco control,” Ms. Chan said, noting that the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products would be “a highly effective way to counter industry’s ruthless marketing tactics.”

Tobacco use, which causes up to 6 million annual deaths globally, is considered to be one of the most preventable public health threats faced by world governments. According to World Health estimates, if stronger action to limit tobacco exposure is not taken, the death toll could potentially increase to 8 million people a year.

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