Cigarette plain packaging laws pass Parliament

ABC News, Australia

Cigarette plain packaging laws pass Parliament

21 November 2011

The Federal Government’s plain packaging laws for cigarettes have now passed both houses of Parliament but are facing their first legal challenge.

The Senate agreed to the legislation earlier this month but made a number of amendments, including to the start date, and sent the legislation back to the Lower House.

The House of Representatives today voted to support the changes.

The legislation means cigarettes will have to be sold in generic dark green packets from December next year, six months later than the original time frame.

Pictures of diseased body parts, sickly babies and dying people will cover 75 per cent of each packet, and tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text will be banned.

After the legislation passed, tobacco giant Philip Morris announced it had started legal action against the Government.

The company says it has served a notice of arbitration under Australia’s Bilateral Investment Treaty with Hong Kong.

Since the legislation’s announcement, the plan has faced fierce opposition from tobacco companies who have vowed to challenge the Government’s ability to remove trademarks from packages.

Philip Morris spokeswoman Anne Edwards says the company has been left with "no option" but to pursue legal action.

"The Government has passed this legislation despite being unable to demonstrate that it will be effective at reducing smoking and has ignored the widespread concerns raised in Australia and internationally regarding the serious legal issues associated with plain packaging," she said.

Philip Morris says it will seek a suspension on the plain packaging laws as well as compensation for the loss of trademarks.

Australia will become the first country to introduce plain packaging laws.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates 15,500 Australians are killed by tobacco-related diseases every year and says passive smoking affects the health of children.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon has called for tobacco companies to respect the will of the Parliament.

"Tobacco companies are addicted to litigation, but I call on them today to consider respecting the will of the Parliament - both houses and all parties have supported this legislation," she said.

"It’s time now to get on with the implementation and to make sure we can continue to reduce smoking rates across the country."