Big Tobacco Sues Britain Over Plain Packaging Lawst

Two of the world’s largest tobacco companies are waging a legal war against European efforts to stifle smoking. British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International have filed a lawsuit against the British government claiming that the new plain packaging rules are violating their rights to use trademarks.

The new law would require that all cigarettes be sold in plain packages with only health warnings and graphic photos of potential smoking-related diseases. The tobacco companies were furious when this new law was introduced and they are even threatening to invoke trade treaties in some areas. Now the two tobacco companies have filed a lawsuit in the High Court of Justice. Officials at New York based Philip Morris International said the plain packaging mandate would “unlawfully deprive PMI of its trademarks” and in turn be a violation of laws in both England and the European Union.

London-based British American Tobacco is also joining the lawsuit. “Any business that has property taken away from it by the state would inevitably want to challenge and seek compensation,” BAT said in a statement. Both companies are seeking damages, which are as of yet unspecified, but could amount to billions of dollars if they win the case in court.

So far, the English Department of Health is refusing to back down on their plain packaging agenda. In a recent statement, the department said it would “not allow public health policy to be held to ransom by the tobacco industry”. They went on to say, “We would not have gone ahead with the standardized packaging unless we had considered it to be defensible in the courts.”

Tobacco companies in the United States faced a similar fight a few years ago and they were victorious. After suing the FDA to stop new packaging rules that would require graphic warning labels, the court ruled in favor of the tobacco companies and the FDA dropped the issue.

It’s not altogether surprising to see Britain taking a hard line of defense against the tobacco companies. They are notorious for cracking down on smoking with extreme tobacco taxes that have driven up the price of a pack of cigarette to around $12.50 on average. British law also specifies that retailers have to keep tobacco products stored out of sight.

Do you think the plain packaging rules are unfair or is this a smart way to combat smoking?

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