Tobacco giants in UK suffer defeat on plain-packaging

Tobacco companies have lost their legal challenge against new cigarette plain-packaging rules in Britain.

Anti-smoking campaigners described it as a crushing defeat.

The day before new regulations were to come into force, a high court judge in London declared that they were “valid and lawful in all respects”, and rejected a judicial review action brought against the UK health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, by four of the world’s biggest firms. Mr Justice Green yesterday said: “There is no basis upon which I could, or should, strike down the regulations, or prevent them coming into effect tomorrow.”

The UK public health minister, Jane Ellison, said: This is a victory for a generation that will grow up smoke-free.”

Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, and Japan Tobacco International had challenged the legality of the “standardised packaging” regulations, which come into force today.

Tobacco firms say the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations, 2015, will destroy their property rights and render products indistinguishable from each other. The judge said: “The regulations were lawful when they were promulgated by parliament, and they are lawful now, in the light of the most up-to-date evidence.”

Action on Smoking and Health chief executive, Deborah Arnott, said: “This landmark judgement is a crushing defeat for the tobacco industry and fully justifies the government’s determination to go ahead with the introduction of standardised packaging.”

Japan Tobacco International said it intended to appeal. Daniel Sciamma, British managing director, said: “We will continue to challenge the legality of plain-packaging. The fact remains that our branding has been eradicated and we maintain that this is unlawful.” Philip Morris said it would not appeal.

Here, plain-packaging legislation was scheduled to come into effect in 2017, but has been delayed because of the tardiness in forming a government. Donal Buggy, at the Irish Cancer Society, said: “Due to the prolonged period of government negotiations, a minor piece of technical legislation, changing the laws that introduce plain-packaging, has not been progressed”.

So what is standardised packaging?

New rules governing standardised packaging of tobacco products are coming into effect.

Q. What is standardised packaging?

Standardised packaging is free of anything promoting the product or making it attractive, and is consistent across all brands.

It prohibits branding other than the product name, which is restricted to a standard font, size and colour, as well as trademarks, logos, colour schemes, and graphics.

Q. What does the new tobacco packaging look like?

All packaging not already covered in warnings, which must take up 65% of the front and back of packs, must be the same dull green colour, called Pantone 448C.

Graphic images of health conditions caused by smoking combined with text dominate the pack.

The name of the brand and product appears underneath in a regulated font designed to be less noticeable than the warnings.

All packs must be cuboid in shape and contain a minimum of 20 cigarettes, to allow room for the warnings, while hand-rolled tobacco must also be packaged in the standard green colour and contain a 30g minimum.

Q. Why is standardised packaging being introduced here?

Smoking is the number one cause of preventable early death, and 100,000 people in Britain die every year from smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Every year in Britain around 200,000 children start smoking - enough to fill 6,900 classrooms.

Health charities say that if just a fraction of these children are discouraged from taking up smoking as a result of standardised packaging, it will save thousands of lives.

A review of evidence of standardised packaging carried out by the University of Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing found that standard packs are less appealing, make health warnings more effective, and reduce the ability of the packaging to minimise the harms of smoking.

Q. Has it worked elsewhere?

Standardised packaging was introduced in Australia in December 2012, where figures from the national drugs strategy household surveys have shown that the prevalence of smoking among adults fell in the second half of 2013, from 15.1% to 12.8%. In Britain, an independent review conducted for the government by paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler found it “highly likely that standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking”.

Q. Why are the old packs still on sale?

Tobacco companies and shops have a year to sell old stock and fully implement the changes, after which time they will face severe penalties for flouting the rules.


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