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Opposing Arguments (and How to Counter Them)
4. Unlawful and breaches international treaties

In its response to the Canadian consultation in 2016, JTI states:

“the introduction of plain packaging legislation in Canada would be unlawful. It would put Canada in breach of various legal obligations, including those protected by international law, the Canadian Charter and common law.” [para. 187]

Imperial Tobacco’s response to the Canadian consultation states:

“Plain packaging is unlawful because:
  • it deprives manufacturers of the legal right to use their trademarks, as protected by the Trade-marks Act; and

  • it violates the right to freedom of expression by impairing the ability of manufacturers to communicate with adult consumers about the origin, quality and other points of differentiation regarding their products; and

  • it violates International Agreements to which Canada is a party.” [p. 15]

In its response to the UK’s 2012 consultation Philip Morris, claimed that:

“Plain packaging will require the government to compensate tobacco companies and will cost the UK taxpayers billions of pounds.” [p. 24]

These tobacco company consultation responses, and a number of the other ones listed here , set out in some detail their legal objections to plain packaging. The multinational tobacco companies have brought legal challenges against plain packaging laws in national, regional, and international courts and tribunals. All of these have so far been dismissed.

The legal claims are detailed on the Case Summaries page of the Tools and Resources.

In the cases that were dismissed in the UK and French administrative courts, the tobacco companies argued that plain packaging breaches national trademark law; breaches rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom to conduct a business; and violates a number of the World Trade Organization agreements, intellectual property treaties, and regional free trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Despite all these cases being firmly rejected, the tobacco companies continue to strongly assert that plain packaging is unlawful in their media campaigns and in submissions to government consultations.

The Counter Arguments

The legal grounds for the tobacco companies’ allegations that plain packaging is unlawful are described in more detail Legal Issues page of the Tools and Resources together with an analysis of why those arguments are fundamentally flawed. In the Tools and Resources there is also a short Policy Briefing Paper that summarizes the legal issues and counter arguments for easy reference.