Standing up to the tobacco industry

Photo (l-r): Todd Harper (CEO, Cancer Council Victoria), Associate Professor Tan

The legal issues of plain packaging

A new book launched today provides the first detailed analysis of the legal issues behind Australia’s historic plain packaging laws and will become an international resource for countries following Australia’s lead in implementing plain packaging.

The McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer and Melbourne Law School today launched "Public Health and Plain Packaging of Cigarettes", an edited volume exploring legal issues relating to Australia's world-first plain tobacco packaging legislation.

The book, which was launched by the Minister for Health, the Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP, offers an in-depth exploration of domestic and international legal questions in fields such as intellectual property, constitutional law, health, trade and investment.

Co-editor of the book and Director of the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, Jonathan Liberman, said the tobacco industry had long claimed that plain packaging would be unconstitutional and that Australian taxpayers would be forced to pay the industry billions of dollars in compensation.

However, in August, the High Court of Australia dismissed a constitutional challenge by tobacco companies to the plain packaging legislation and ordered the companies to paythe Government’s legal costs.

Mr Liberman said attention has now turned to international legal challenges to plain packaging in the World Trade Organization and under a bilateral investment treaty between Australia and Hong Kong.

“The ferocity of the tobacco industry’s legal fight against plain packaging, which was fully implemented on 1 December 2012, highlights its fear of an international domino effect towards plain packaging,” Mr Liberman said.

“This book will be a valuable resource for governments, NGOs and academics around the world, as they consider following Australia’s lead in implementing plain packaging. It will help people make sense of the ongoing international legal disputes and respond to the tobacco industry’s unfounded legal arguments,” he said.

The book represents the first step in a major research project funded by grants from the Australian Research Council and the Australian National Preventive Health Agency to explore the implications of international trade and investment law for regulation of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods, which are common risk factors for noncommunicable diseases. That research is being conducted through collaboration between The University of Melbourne and the McCabe Centre.

Co-editor of the book Tania Voon, Associate Dean (Research) and Associate Professor at Melbourne Law School, said that international trade and investment law is complex but contains sufficient flexibilities to enable countries to achieve public health goals through regulation such as Australia’s mandatory plain tobacco packaging.

The book, edited by Tania Voon, Andrew D. Mitchell, and Glyn Ayres of Melbourne Law School and Jonathan Liberman, Director, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, a joint initiative of Cancer Council Victoria and Union for International Cancer Control, Australia, can be obtained here.

Source: McCabe Centre for Law & Cancer - News story