Yet another major legal victory for Australia in its long-running battle against Big Tobacco.
Specifically, Australia defeated Philip Morris International, which has been one of the corporations fighting Australia for the past five to 10 years over that nation’s plain-packaging laws.
Initially, the government of Australia won in the Australian Supreme Court for the right to impose a plain-packaging law. In Australia, packages of cigarettes not only cannot have logos of tobacco brands, but they are required to have graphic images of the damage that tobacco does to people’s mouths, teeth, etc.
Anyway, after losing before the Australian Supreme Court, Philip Morris Int’l persuaded several countries to get involved in litigation against Australia to claim that that country’s plain packaging laws were violating trade agreements and international trade law. Ukraine was one of the countries involved, but dropped out many months ago.
However, Hong Kong was still involved in this legal action, invoking something called the “1993 Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement”. An entity known as an “arbitral tribunal” (seriously, that’s what it is called), declined to hear Hong Kong and Philip Morris Int’l’s case, ending the litigation … for now.
From the Guardian article:
The minister responsible for Australia’s tobacco policy, Fiona Nash, said: “We welcome the unanimous decision by the tribunal agreeing with Australia’s position that it has no jurisdiction to hear Philip Morris’s claim.”
The Public Health Association of Australia welcomed the decision as “the best Christmas present for public health nationally and internationally”.
“Smoking in Australia is falling in adults, in children and by tobacco volume sales,” said the association’s chief executive, Michael Moore.
“Now the tobacco companies have lost another crucial legal bid to stop this life-saving measure. The message is loud and clear – plain packaging works, and it is here to stay.”
Not surprisingly, Philip Morris was not happy with the decision. From the article:
“There is nothing in today’s outcome that addresses, let alone validates, plain packaging in Australia or anywhere else,” said Marc Firestone, Philip Morris International senior vice president and general counsel.
“It is regrettable that the outcome hinged entirely on a procedural issue that Australia chose to advocate instead of confronting head on the merits of whether plain packaging is legal or even works.”
Oh, wah! Cry me a river, Philip Morris. Shouldn’t you be busy picking on Uruguay?
This decision could help other countries that are proposing plain packaging laws. Ireland already does it, and France is moving ahead with plain packaging for tobacco in 2016, following Australia’s lead. Efforts to force plain packaging for cigarettes in the U.S. are stymied by a very strong First Amendment.
Philip Morris International and other tobacco companies have fought these plain packaging laws around the world; they’ve even enlisted the help of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to aid them in their fights against Uruguay, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Togo and other countries. Notice most of these countries are fairly small with limited finances and resources to fight Big Tobacco. Not a coincidence.