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High Court rejects tobacco industry’s plain packaging appeal

The tobacco industry’s appeal against mandatory plain packaging was dismissed by the High Court this morning and the legislation will take effect from October.

The majority of justices rejected the argument from Australian cigarette manufacturers that the laws were unconstitutional, but the reasons for the decision have not been published by the court.

The tobacco industry’s stance was that the government had not acquired their trademarks on “just terms” and they were therefore owed billions of dollars in compensation.

Chief Justice Robert French said the majority of justices found that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill was not in contravention of Section 51 of the Australian constitution and the tobacco companies have been ordered to pay the Commonwealth's legal costs.

From October, cigarettes made in Australia will be required by law to be packaged in ‘drab brown’ boxes.

Only standard fonts will be allowed, with a ban on all logos, slogans colours and other branding and larger graphic health warnings will be mandatory.

From December all tobacco products on Australian shelves will be in plain packaging.

Tobacco companies still have a legal challenge against plain packaging through international trade laws pending, but it is expected these will take several years to conclude.

Director of the anti-smoking group McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, Jonathan Liberman, welcomed the decision, saying it would set the standard around the world.

"It shows to everybody that the only way to deal with tobacco industry claims, sabre rattling and legal threats is to stare them down in court," he said.

“It would be great if the tobacco industry would just say ‘We understand our products are addictive, they kill up to half of long term users and we will cop on the chin whatever the Government decides needs to be done to reduce their harm’.”

British American Tobacco Australia spokesman Scott McIntyre said plain packaging will benefit black market cigarette products.

“Although the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act passed the constitutional test it’s still a bad law that will only benefit organised crime groups which sell illegal tobacco on our streets,” he said.

“The illegal cigarette black market will grow further when all packs look the same and are easier to copy.

“Plain packaging will also put pressure on the industry to reduce legal tobacco prices.”

Health groups are heralding the decision as a major victory for public health.

"Today’s High Court decision that tobacco plain packaging can proceed is a massive win for public health and also the global tobacco industry’s worst defeat yet.” Australian Council on Smoking and Health president Mike Daube, who chaired the Federal Government committee said.

"The global tobacco companies have opposed plain packaging more ferociously than any other measure because they know that plain packaging will have a major impact on smoking here and other countries will follow.”

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Ian Olver said it was a significant for public health over commercial interests.

What do you think plain packaging will do for Australia's health? Will it be beneficial or create more problems?

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