Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT) have sued the British government over plain-packaging legislation passed in March. The law, which would take effect from May 2016, requires cigarettes to be sold in packages of uniform shape and size that feature only the brand name and contain prominent graphic health warnings. England is the third and most populous country to introduce plain-packaging laws, following Australia and Ireland.
PMI argues that England’s plain-packaging regulations “unlawfully deprive PMI of its trademarks” and should therefore be overturned, according to an article in The New York Times. London-based BAT stated that the British government had left the company “with no other choice” and released a statement saying that “any business that has property taken away from it by the state would inevitably want to challenge and seek compensation.” Japan Tobacco International has also indicated it would challenge England’s legislation. The tobacco companies are seeking unspecified damages, which could total billions of dollars if granted.
A statement released by the English Department of Health said it would “not allow public health policy to be held to ransom by the tobacco industry” and that it “would not have gone ahead with standardized packaging unless we had considered it to be defensible in the courts.”
Ukraine has suspended the legal proceedings it brought against Australia through the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2012, which claimed the country’s plain-packaging laws were trade-restrictive. Instead, the Eastern European nation—which received financial support from British American Tobacco to pursue litigation—has stated it will attempt to seek a mutually agreed-upon solution with Australia to resolve the issue.
Ukraine was the first of five countries to challenge Australia’s plain-packaging laws at the WTO, despite the fact that Ukraine does not currently export tobacco to Australia. The other countries who have launched lawsuits against Australia—Indonesia, Cuba, Honduras and the Dominican Republic—have not announced any plans to drop their lawsuits challenging the strict packaging laws banning company logos and requiring cigarettes to be sold in olive-colored packages with brand names printed in standardized fonts.
According to WTO rules, Ukraine’s suspension could last one year, after which time its right to return to the panel proceedings will lapse. The WTO adjudication panel is expected to rule on the remaining plain-packaging lawsuits in the first half of 2016.
Three of Canada’s tobacco giants began their defense Monday against a $27-billion class-action lawsuit in Montreal by calling a witness who said the dangers of smoking are no secret.
Historian and professor Jacques Lacoursière testified tobacco’s health risks have been common knowledge for decades. He pointed to over 700 references to the hazards of smoking dating back to the 1950s, including TV and radio reports, school manuals, government releases and health professionals.
One of the many examples included a newspaper article that outlined a significant increase in lung cancer risk following the prolonged use of cigarettes. The proceedings will continue on Tuesday with the plaintiffs’ cross-examination of Lacoursière.
“What these historians miss is all the coverage that came out in the media about how the industry was involved in a conspiracy to hide all that information,” said Damphousse François, the Quebec director of the Non-Smoker’s Rights Association.
“They knew about the health effects of their products, but they didn’t meet the obligation to inform their public about what they knew.”
The class-action lawsuit, which is being touted as the biggest civil case in Canadian history, was first filed years ago. The complainants, two groups of individuals representing a total of 1.8 million Quebecers, allege three tobacco companies did everything possible to encourage addiction:
- Imperial Tobacco.
- Rothmans, Benson & Hedges.
One group involves individuals who have become seriously ill from smoking, and members of the other group say they are unable to quit smoking.