Tobacco giants lose appeal against plain cigarette packaging

British American Tobacco (BAT) and others appealed Parliament’s decision to remove individual designs from cigarette packets in May, but have lost their case.

© Action on Smoking and Health. The image conforms to the requirements of the EU Tobacco Products Directive and UK law on standardised packaging.
© Action on Smoking and Health. The image conforms to the requirements of the EU Tobacco Products Directive and UK law on standardised packaging.

Tobacco companies have lost their appeal to retain individual designs on cigarette packets.

Standardised cigarette packaging came into force in May this year, after a law banning unique designs was passed in Parliament in March last year.

Health warning covers 65% of packet

The ruling means that all packets have to be a “drab brown” colour with a matt finish, and all brand names have to be printed in the same Helvetica typeface in font size 14, and font size 10 for flavour variants.

It also specifies that the packet must be cuboid-shaped, the surface should be smooth with no ridges, embossing or “distinguishing features”, and that a health warning and colour photograph should cover 65% of the front and back.

Tobacco giants initially challenged the ruling in December last year at the High Court, on the grounds that plain packaging was an infringement of their intellectual property rights and would deprive consumers of the ability to make their own decisions.

Reducing “fun factor” of buying cigarettes

Their challenge was rejected, with the EU Court of Justice saying that “less extravagant” packaging would reduce the temptation of young consumers to smoke.

It added that removing “unusual or striking” packaging would help to reduce “the coolness or fun factor” of buying cigarettes.

British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and Imperial Tobacco then appealed the decision, but the Court of Appeal has dismissed their claim. The companies can now take the case to the Supreme Court if they want to.

Decision “disappointing”

A spokesperson at British American Tobacco says that the Court of Appeal’s decision is “disappointing” but that it “does not necessarily mark the end of the challenge”.

Imperial Tobacco also says that it is reviewing the judgement and “will consider its legal options”.

But the Government says that it hopes the standardised packaging will help to reduce the appeal and uptake of smoking, place more emphasis on health warnings and prevent “misleading packaging”.

“Standardised packaging will help cut smoking rates and reduce suffering, disease and loss of life,” says Nicola Blackwood, Public Health and Innovation minister.

Concentrate on “smoke-free” products

Tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) was also involved in the original legal challenge last year, but decided not to appeal after plain packaging came into action in May 2016. It has now decided to “concentrate [its] efforts on developing and commercialising smoke-free products” instead, a spokesperson says.

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