Standardised tobacco packaging comes into effect

A mock-up of complaint tobacco packaging
A mock-up of compliant tobacco packaging

NEW rules for standardised tobacco packaging have come into effect in the UK following the High Court’s dismissal of a legal challenge against the new legislation.

Global tobacco firms, British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International claimed the new rules would destroy their intellectual property rights and was unlawful.

Their challenge was dismissed and all tobacco packaging in the UK must now comply with regulations. That means standardised packs, which are dull green in colour and feature health warnings and images that highlight the potential effects of smoking. The name of the brand can still appear on the packs, but it must be the same size, shape and text font as all rival brands.

Companies and stockists have been given a one-year transitional period to comply.

ASH Chief Executive Deborah Arnott said, “This landmark judgement is a crushing defeat for the tobacco industry and fully justifies the Government’s determination to go ahead with the introduction of standardised packaging. Millions of pounds have been spent on some of the country’s most expensive lawyers in the hope of blocking the policy. This disgraceful effort to privilege tobacco business interests over public health has rightly failed utterly.”

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, described the judgement as “very disappointing”. He added, “Plain packaging treats adults like children and teenagers like idiots. Everyone knows the health risks of smoking and very few people start because of the packaging.

“Plain packaging has nothing to do with health. It’s gesture politics designed to appease public health campaigners who are forever searching for new ways to force smokers to quit.

“Plain packaging is a declaration of war on consumers because the aim is to denormalise not just the product but also millions of adults who enjoy smoking and don’t want to quit.

“If you don’t smoke but enjoy alcohol, sugary drinks and convenience food you should be concerned by this judgement because the health police are coming for you too.”

A British American Tobacco spokesperson said, “This decision by the English High Court is by no means the final word on the lawfulness of plain packaging.

“We believe that the judgment contains a number of fundamental errors of law and we are applying for leave to appeal the decision.

“The judgment, if left to stand, should also raise real concerns for many other legitimate businesses as it creates a worrying precedent whereby public policy concerns can ride roughshod over long established fundamental commercial rights.

“It’s important to appreciate that a UK decision is not a precedent for other governments to introduce plain packaging.

“No two jurisdictions are the same and any government considering plain packaging will need to ensure that it complies with the fundamental rights of businesses relevant to that country, and be mindful of the World Trade Organisation dispute on plain packaging, which is still on-going.”