British American Tobacco (BAT) [corporate website] brought legal action in Australia's High Court [official website] on Thursday in response [press release] to the country's new tobacco packaging laws. Two weeks ago, Parliament [official website] enacted the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill [text], which removes descriptive colors and logos from cigarette boxes and requires a depiction of the negative effects of smoking. The law will take effect December 1, 2012. BAT argued that the new law would flood the black market with fake cigarettes and that the taxpayers would lose out on billions of dollars as a result of lost excise taxes. Scott McIntyre, a spokesman for BAT, said that the company will fight the government to preserve its rights:
Obviously we'd rather not be in a situation where we're forced to take the Government to court but unfortunately for taxpayers the Government has taken us down the legal path. [The government] will now waste millions of taxpayer's dollars on legal fees defending plain packaging even though ... there is no proof it will reduce smoking rates. As a legal company selling a legal product we have consistently said we will defend our valuable intellectual property on behalf of our shareholders as any other company would.Health Minister Nicola Roxon [official profile] on Thursday defended the law [press release, PDF] and said that tobacco companies will have 12 months to comply with the new requirements.
This is not the first suit brought in Australia as a result of the new law. In late November, Philip Morris Asia Ltd. (PMA) [corporate website] initiated legal proceedings [JURIST report] on behalf of its Australian subsidiary Philip Morris Ltd. [corporate website]. While Australia is the first country to enact such stringent laws, tobacco packaging is an issue in the US as well. In early November a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] granted a temporary injunction [JURIST report] to block the implementation of new requirements imposed by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text]. Additionally, four tobacco companies [JURIST report] sued the US government in August claiming that new cigarette labeling regulations violated their First Amendment rights. In 2009, US President Barack Obama signed the FSPTCA into law [JURIST report], granting the FDA certain authority to regulate tobacco products. The legislation increased warning label requirements, prohibited marketing "light cigarettes" as a healthier alternative and allowed for the regulation of cigarette ingredients.