Australia upholds strict anti-tobacco marketing laws

All cigarettes and tobacco products must be sold in plain olive green packets from December 1. Photo:

Australia's High Court has upheld the world's toughest laws on cigarette marketing, dismissing a legal challenge from tobacco companies in a major test case.

Tobacco giants British American Tobacco, Britain's Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco challenged the laws passed by parliament to ban logos and branding appearing on cigarette packages in Australia's High Court. They said the new rules were unconstitutional because they infringed on their intellectual property rights.

The seven judges did not agree and so from December 1 this year all cigarettes and tobacco products must be sold in plain olive green packets without branding. The packets will carry graphic health warnings.

A combination photo shows illustrations obtained by Reuters of some of the proposed models of cigarettes packs Credit: Reuters

The laws are in line with World Health Organisation recommendations and the case is being closely watched by other countries attempting to cut cancer rates.

Australian Attorney-General Nicolas Roxon said the ruling was a "watershed moment for tobacco control around the world" and called on other governments across the world to "stand up to fight big tobacco." Mrs Roxon's father, a smoker, died of cancer when she was ten. She said after the ruling:

The message to the rest of the world is big tobacco can be taken on and beaten. Without brave governments willing to take the fight up to big tobacco, they'd still have us believing that tobacco is neither harmful nor addictive.

– Australian Attorney-General Nicolas Roxon

The decision ends any domestic challenges to plain packaging inside Australia. British American Tobacco claimed that the measures would fuel a black market for branded cigarettes.

It's still a bad law that will only benefit organised crime groups which sell illegal tobacco on our streets. Even though we believe the government has taken our property from us, we'll ensure our products comply with the plain packaging requirements and implementation dates

– BAT spokesman Scott McIntyre

Industry analysts are worried plain packaging laws could spread to emerging markets like Brazil, Russia and Indonesia and threaten sales growth.

The World Health Organisation estimates more than 1 billion people around the world are regular smokers, with 80% of smokers coming from emerging markets in low and middle income countries.

Australia wants to cut the number of smokers from around 15 percent of the population to 10 percent by 2018. Authorities say smoking kills around 15,000 Australians a year.