Case Closed: WTO upholds standardized tobacco packaging with finality

The World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body issued a decision last June 9, 2020, affirming with finality that Australia’s landmark standardized tobacco packaging law is fully consistent with international trade laws.

This final ruling was celebrated by public health groups around the world, including the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).

“This historic judgment is a public health victory that puts the final nail in the coffin of the tobacco industry’s legal challenges against standardized packaging. This ruling not only upholds Australia’s 2012 standardized or plain packaging law, but it also strengthens standardized tobacco packaging in countries, such as Singapore and Thailand, that have similar laws in place, and encourages even more countries to adopt and implement this life-saving tobacco control measure and not be intimidated by industry threats of legal challenges,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.

Following Australia’s lead, more than 30 countries and territories have moved forward with standardized packaging, with 16 countries having adopted the measure and at least 15 other countries in varying stages of introducing standardized packaging laws.

Thailand’s standardized packaging law has been in force since September 2019, while Singapore’s law will come into force on 1 July 2020.

Since 2012, the tobacco industry has lost all its legal challenges against standardized packaging both in national and international courts, not only in Australia, but also in France, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

Tobacco companies launch legal challenges against governments as a tactic to delay, derail and tie up governments’ limited resources in protracted battles. It is an intimidation strategy aimed to scare off governments.

“Evidence shows that standardized packaging works to reduce tobacco use by diminishing the attractiveness of tobacco products, eliminating tobacco packaging as a form of advertising, and increasing the noticeability of pictorial health warnings, thereby restricting the tobacco industry’s ability to market to young people, encouraging quitting among current tobacco users, and helping prevent ex-users from relapsing,” added Dorotheo.

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