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Big Tobacco’s Latest Legal Threat Takes Aim at United Kingdom

December 10, 2015


Big tobacco is yet again fighting public health measures meant to reduce tobacco use, this time by suing the government of the United Kingdom (UK) for its law that will require tobacco products to be sold in standardized packages. The case has been brought by tobacco giants Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Group and Japan Tobacco International. The companies are challenging the UK law — which will take effect next May — to eliminate the use of colorful logos and branding on tobacco packaging. Tobacco branding on packaging is used by the tobacco industry to make products more appealing to smokers and potential customers, including youth.

While the case in the London’s Royal Court of Justice commenced today, this is only the most recent in a series of similar attempts by Big Tobacco to intimidate nations seeking to implement tobacco control measures. In Australia and Uruguay, tobacco companies have sued in national courts and international trade tribunals to send a message to countries around the world that efforts to reduce tobacco use will result in costly litigation. The national court systems in both countries have rejected the tobacco companies’ claims, and the countries’ governments and health champions are hopeful that decisions in international trade arbitration will come down against the tobacco companies.

While tobacco companies have fiercely argued against the benefits of standardized packaging, the evidence supporting the innovative solution is becoming clear. In Australia, smoking rates fell at their fastest pace in more than two decades following the implementation of standardized packaging and other tobacco control measures.

Following Australia’s successful implementation of plain packaging, several countries including France and Ireland have announced they will also implement the measure. Just last month, the President of Uruguay — one of the countries currently under attack from Big Tobacco — signaled his defiance against the tobacco industry with an announcement of his intention to move ahead with standardized packaging legislation.

The latest legal challenge in the UK is another example of how tobacco companies will stop at nothing to protect profits from their deadly products. But the UK, like Australia and Uruguay, is not backing down. We applaud the UK government for standing its ground against the bullying of tobacco companies. The UK’s steadfast defense of its laws sends a strong message to other countries that public health can and should come before the profits of a deadly industry. More countries around the world should follow suit to implement this life-saving measures to swiftly and decisively reduce tobacco use — the world’s leading cause of preventable death.