People's Domain

Global milestone for public health as Australia wins WTO case on tobacco plain packaging

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) applauds the historic World Trade Organization (WTO) decision upholding Australia’s plain packaging law as being consistent with international trade and intellectual property laws.

Claiming violations of WTO agreements and reportedly with support from transnational tobacco companies, Ukraine, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras and Indonesia had filed cases to dispute Australia’s pioneering law that requires tobacco products to be packaged in monotonous greenish-brown packets with large pictorial health warnings and brand names printed in standardized fonts. Ukraine later withdrew its complaint.

“This ruling for Australia is an important precedent and encourages other countries, especially low- and middle-income countries in the ASEAN, that are planning to implement plain packaging. Evidence[1] [2] shows that plain packaging works to reduce tobacco use by diminishing the attractiveness of tobacco products and eliminating the use of tobacco packaging as a form of advertising and promotion. Currently, all ten ASEAN countries have pictorial health warnings (PHWs) on tobacco products. Plain packaging is the next logical step in protecting public health,” said Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee, Executive Director of SEATCA.

Following Australia’s lead, France, Hungary, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia and the United Kingdom have already introduced plain packaging laws, and at least 16 other jurisdictions are formally considering plain packaging. Prior to the WTO ruling, legal challenges by tobacco companies in Australia, France, Norway, the UK, and Ireland had also been dismissed.

In the ASEAN region, Singapore and Thailand are in advanced stages of preparing plain packaging legislation, while Malaysia had announced plans to follow its neighbors but succumbed to pressure from the tobacco industry and stalled its preparation.  “The tobacco industry uses the threat of legal challenges to intimidate governments, particularly in low and middle income countries that have limited resources to fight the industry in court,” added Ritthiphakdee.

“The global standard in packaging tobacco products is now plain packaging. With this latest win, countries should boldly push for stronger tobacco control measures like plain packaging and not be intimidated by possible law suits,” remarked Ritthiphakdee. (News archived from Rappler X – June 29, 2018) 

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