Tobacco plain packaging laws given go ahead by Australia’s High Court

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 15th August 2012

The High Court of Australia has rejected the constitutional challenge by major tobacco companies to the Federal Government’s plain packaging laws.

The new laws were passed in November 2011 but allowed a transition period for the new plain packaging to be introduced.

The High Court decision gives the legislation the all-clear and now means new-look tobacco packets in plain olive colour, absent the brand names, will become the newest addition to Australian shelves.

The tobacco companies in the court challenge included British American Tobacco, Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco, arguing the Australian Government’s decision was a breach of their intellectual property rights and was required to be protected under the Australian Constitution.

The High Court disagreed and ruled in favour of the Federal Government’s plain packaging laws.  The High Court released a statement today outlining that a majority of the Court was of the opinion that their decision is in line with Act 51 (xxxi), which specifically empowers the acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws.”

The High Court judgements (with reasons for the decision) were not made available today.

Spokespersons for the tobacco companies have predicted that plain packaging will encourage a black market and will make cigarettes easier to buy.

India waiting on Australian decision

The ruling decision may now be used as a precedent for other countries to follow suit in decisions relating to tobacco packaging regulations. India, the world’s second-largest tobacco consumer and producer, may find Australia’s decision an influence in considering similar laws.

Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Health, India, Shakuntala Gamlim recently stated, “We have a huge young population addicted to tobacco. Plain packaging, particularly the Australian case study, can be an example for India.”

Implications for Australian and international food industry

The decision poses questions for the future of beverage and food product packaging where governments wish to become more interventionist in relation to branding of products or when policy makers believe that a product has adverse health consequences.

In particular, there are concerns that the decision by the High Court of Australia opens the door for potential government intervention in relation to the marketing of other products such as alcoholic drinks as well as other food products where there are health-related concerns with marketing.