Tobacco firms fuming over Australia's "plain package" law
Tobacco firms fuming over Australia's "plain package" law By David W Freeman ~ source
(CBS/AP) Big Tobacco is under fire Down Under, with the Australian government saying it is ready to fight cigarette makers in court to enact the world's toughest laws on cigarette packaging.
The Australian Senate is scheduled to pass legislation Thursday that - beginning in Dec. 2012 - would stop tobacco companies from displaying their distinctive colors, brand designs and logos on cigarette packs. Cigarettes would be sold in drab, olive green packs, with brand names dwarfed by health warnings and graphic images of smoking's consequences.
The aim of the legislation? Make cigarettes and smoking less appealing to young people.
Tobacco giants argue that the move illegally diminishes the value of their trademarks. They've threatened a court battle for billions of dollars in compensation.
But Health Minister Nicola Roxon said her government was "determined to take away the last method of advertising" cigarettes in Australia.
"We're not going to be bullied into not taking this action just because tobacco companies say they might fight us in the courts," she told reporters. "We're ready for that if they do take legal action."
British American Tobacco Australia Ltd., the Australian market leader, on Thursday warned it would challenge the law in the Australian High Court, and claimed the government was on "shaky legal ground."
"No other country in the world has implemented plain packaging and there are many good reasons for that," spokesman Scott McIntyre said in a statement.
Australia is a relatively small market for tobacco. It has a smoking rate of 17 percent, compared with around 20 percent of American adults who smoke. But tobacco companies worry that the plain package law could be adopted by countries with more lucrative markets.
The warnings and gruesome, full-color images of the consequences of smoking -including mouth cancer and gangrenous toes - would cover 75 percent of the fronts of cigarette packages. Currently, graphic health warnings cover only 30 percent.
Hong Kong-based Philip Morris Asia Limited, owner of the Australian affiliate Philip Morris Limited, filed a notice of claim against the government in an Australian court in June arguing that the legislation violates a bilateral investment treaty between Australia and Hong Kong.
Philip Morris says the treaty protects companies' property, including intellectual property such as trademarks. It says plain packaging severely diminishes the value of the company's trademark.
Worldwide, smoking killed more than 100 million people during the 20th Century, according to the World Health Association. The agency projects that 10 times that many could die in the 21st Century. Smoking claims more lives than AIDS, legal drugs, illegal drugs, automobile accidents, murder, and suicide combined.