10. Less Restrictive Measures areā€¦ | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Click here for The Counter Arguments that can be used to defeat this industry argument. 

The tobacco companies all argue that there are less restrictive measures than plain packaging that will be more effective at reducing tobacco consumption.

Part of the reason the tobacco companies make this argument is because it is important for some of the legal tests on the justification or proportionality of the measure. For instance, under Article 2.2 of the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade agreement, a technical measure should “not be more trade-restrictive than necessary to fulfill a legitimate objective.” This legal test considers if there are less restrictive alternatives that would have an equal effect in achieving the public health objective.

The alternatives the companies put forward as being effective and proportionate solutions include:

  • Reduce youth access to tobacco by:
    • Increasing the minimum age at which people can buy tobacco;
    • Giving greater resources to enforcement of the current regime to prevent minors accessing tobacco;
    • Reinforcing existing retail access prevention measures;
    • Making proxy purchasing unlawful (proxy purchasing is where an adult buys tobacco on behalf of a minor);
  • Improved Health Warnings;
  • Targeted public information campaigns;
  • Greater educational programmes;
  • Ensuring better enforcement to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco;
  • Increasing taxation.

Many of the tobacco company consultation submissions listed here include the argument that these alternative measures should be introduced instead of plain packaging, that they would be more effective at reducing smoking rates and would be less restrictive on trade and intellectual property rights.

These same arguments were also included in the legal challenges to plain packaging regulations in the UK and France.

For instance, in the High Court judgment from the UK:

The Claimants submit that the Secretary of State has failed to prove that standardised packaging is proportionate because the evidence does not show that there are no equally effective but less restrictive alternatives …

PMI contends that there is a less restrictive and more effective alternative policy available to the Government, namely taxation … They rely upon the expert evidence of Professor Mulligan who argued that taxation was a tobacco control policy 'that obviously works' … [This is] all the Court needs to know to conclude that standardised packaging is unlawful: there is a less restrictive and more effective policy alternative available.

It is notable that, in the context of plain packaging, the tobacco companies argue that higher taxation, even in an already high tax market, is a policy that “obviously works” to reduce smoking rates. Where the tobacco companies seek to resist tax increases they argue the opposite.

Also notable is that in court PMI, JTI and Imperial all abandoned any reliance on alternative measures being effective other than taxation. Only BAT continued to argue that in addition to tax, numerous alternative, less restrictive and equally effective measures could be introduced.

Similar arguments were also made in the WTO disputes to Australia’s plain packaging

The complainants argued plain packaging is not necessary because there are four alternative measures which would be less trade restrictive but equally effective at contributing to Australia’s objective -

  • increasing the minimum legal purchasing age (MLPA) from 18 to 21
  • increasing tobacco taxation
  • improved social marketing campaigns
  • a pre-vetting mechanism for individual pack designs (instead of the blanket approach of plain packaging)

The panel concluded that, individually, each of the four alternatives -  

“would not make a contribution to Australia’s objective that is equivalent to the contribution made by the tobacco plain packaging measures” [para. 7.1721].

The Counter Arguments

  • A comprehensive tobacco control strategy seeks to reduce the devastating public health impact of smoking by as much as possible through an array of separate and complementary policy measures. While different measures have a common overarching goal of improving public health, they have different objectives in how to achieve that goal.

  • Plain packaging seeks to address the promotional and misleading impact of tobacco packaging. No other alternative measure addresses that core aim of the policy.

  • Taxation does not work to change the social attitude towards and perceptions of smoking.

  • It is a core tenet of the WHO FCTC that contracting states should use a range of different measures to attack tobacco supply and demand from all angles. Tobacco-control policies should be “comprehensive” and include a range of different measures that have a variety of specific objectives.

  • In the legal claim against the UK regulations, the judge said:
    Combining tax and advertising measures is in contrast a strategy which addresses supply and demand from different angles and perspectives… it is hard to see how a tax which reduces the profits of the tobacco companies is more or less restrictive than advertising restrictions which achieve the same end… taxation does nothing to change attitudes about smoking or to “denormalise” a product which for decades has been perceived as normal. [para. 671]
  • BAT floated (asserted) the possibility that other measures would suffice. No evidence has been adduced to support the contention … The Claimants’ argument amounts to mere assertion [paras. 657 and 668]
  • And the UK Court of Appeal confirmed that:
    None of the claimed alternatives, including increased taxation, would achieve all of the objectives pursued by the Regulations and that they should be regarded instead as complementary measures forming part of a comprehensive tobacco control strategy, an approach supported by the FCTC. [para. 243]
  • In the WTO dispute against Australia, the panel ruled that the proposed alternative measures:
    would not make a contribution to Australia’s objective that is equivalent to the contribution made by the tobacco plain packaging measures [para. 7.1721]

These court rulings highlight the importance of formally establishing the precise aims and objectives of plain packaging when developing the policy and adopting the law, and not simply relying on it being a public health measure. See Guide 1.1 Set Policy Objectives for more details.