Australia welcomes win over plain tobacco packaging

SYDNEY • An Australian law requiring cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging has received a boost after an international tribunal said it would not hear a tobacco company's legal challenge.

The government in Canberra yesterday welcomed the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration to refuse jurisdiction over a case brought by smoking giant Philip Morris. "Plain packaging is a legitimate public health measure, which is consistent with Australia's international legal obligations," said Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash, who is responsible for tobacco policy.

"We welcome the unanimous decision by the tribunal agreeing with Australia's position that it has no jurisdiction to hear Philip Morris's claim," she said in a statement.

"Smoking does untold harm to Australians, causing deaths from cancer, lung and heart disease, and hurting families."

In 2012, Australia became the first country to mandate plain packaging for cigarettes in a bid to reduce smoking rates and has since been followed by other nations, including France and Britain.

But big tobacco firms, including Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International, have launched legal challenges against such laws, arguing that they impinge on their trademark intellectual property.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration, established to settle international disputes, declined to comment on its decision to refuse jurisdiction for the arbitration proceedings in Singapore.

Philip Morris accused Australia of using a procedural issue to avoid addressing the legality and effectiveness of plain packages, calling the move "regrettable".

Philip Morris launched the challenge in 2011 after plain-packaging legislation was passed, using a 1993 trade deal between Australia and Hong Kong that included foreign investment protection.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'Australia welcomes win over plain tobacco packaging'. Print Edition | Subscribe