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Ukraine Puts Public Health First in Suspending WTO Challenge to Australia’s Law Requiring Plain Cigarette Packs

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 03, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – Ukraine’s new government has suspended the country’s case before the World Trade Organization that challenged Australia’s law requiring that cigarettes be sold in plain packaging. Ukraine’s action is a blow to the tobacco industry’s continuing efforts to challenge Australia’s world-first plain packaging law, which was enacted in 2011.

By suspending its case before the WTO, Ukraine has delivered a clear message that the new government is making public health a priority over the interests of the big tobacco companies. Ukraine has set an example that should be followed quickly by the other countries that have challenged Australia. It is another important sign that the industry’s claims against Australia lack merit.

After Australia’s highest court rejected the tobacco industry’s lawsuits and upheld the plain packaging law in 2012, the former Ukrainian government initiated this action before the WTO with financial support from British American Tobacco. Prodded and in some cases financed by tobacco companies, four other countries – Honduras, Cuba, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic – followed Ukraine’s lead and also challenged Australia’s law.

Ukraine’s decision to suspend its WTO challenge also aligns the country’s trade policy on tobacco with its strong domestic laws to reduce tobacco use, including a strong, nationwide smoke-free law; large, graphic cigarette warnings; ban on tobacco advertising, promotions, and sponsorships; and higher tobacco taxes.

Australia’s law requires that cigarettes be sold in plain, drab packaging, free of colorful logos and other branding that encourages tobacco use. Earlier this year, Ireland and the United Kingdom became the second and third countries to require plain packaging, and other countries are considering such legislation.

By suspending its WTO case against Australia, Ukraine struck a blow for the rights of all countries to enact strong measures that reduce tobacco use and protect the health of their citizens.