Philip Morris International today filed suit in the English High Court to contest the UK government’s recently introduced standardized packaging regulations for tobacco products.
In a note posted on its website, PMI said it was seeking a decision that the regulations – which imposed a wholesale ban on logos and visual trademark elements and required all cigarette packaging to look the same – violated English and European Union law.
“We respect the government’s authority to regulate in the public interest, but wiping out trademarks simply goes too far,” said Marc Firestone, PMI senior vice president and general counsel. “Countries around the world have shown that effective tobacco control can co-exist with respect for consumer freedoms and private property.”
PMI pointed out that in April 2015, all tobacco products in the UK were banned from display at retail, and as early as 2016, EU law would require that health warnings for cigarettes cover up to 65 percent of the pack.
PMI’s filing asserts that:
* ‘The regulations unlawfully deprive PMI of its trademarks. A core doctrine of English and EU law is that there must be fair compensation for deprivations of property, a remedy that the regulations do not provide.
* ‘The regulations violate the EU law that says Community trademarks can be used by identical means throughout the EU, which would be impossible if the UK government bans their use in the UK.
* ‘The regulations obstruct the free movement of goods through means that are neither necessary nor proportionate to achieving the UK government’s public health objectives.
* ‘A case from the English High Court is already before the European Union’s Court of Justice to decide whether standardized packaging is permissible under the EU’s recently enacted tobacco product directive. If not, then the UK regulations would be invalid. It would have been far sounder to hear from the Court of Justice before issuing the regulations.’
PMI said that trademarks conveyed a product’s quality and other attributes and helped consumers select from competing brands in a crowded marketplace. In this and other ways, trademarks were the key to a market economy.
In 2014, it added, Marlboro ranked as the ninth most valuable global brand with an estimated value of $67 billion.
“The UK government rushed out the regulations, with many serious questions left unanswered,” Firestone said. “The law protects trademarks because of their essential functions for consumers and in driving competition. By contrast, a wholesale ban on branding distorts the market and treats consumers as if they’re not capable of making their own decisions.”