Australia is the first country to introduce plain packaging, a measure recommended under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world's first public health treaty. While over 50 countries now require graphic health warnings, Australia's plan goes a step further. Having banned all other tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, plain packaging removes the last public space for the tobacco industry to market its deadly products. Several other countries, including New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the European Union, are considering plain packaging.
“This is a milestone in our decades-long global effort to end the tobacco epidemic,” said Laurent Huber, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the nation's oldest anti-tobacco organization. “With the injunction against FDA-mandated graphic warning labels, the U.S. has fallen far behind in efforts to protect people from addiction and early death from tobacco use.”
A federal court found that new U.S. warning labels, which depicted the harmful effects of smoking, were unconstitutional. The decision is currently under appeal.
Canada had considered plain packaging in the late 1990s, but backed off when the tobacco industry threatened to sue under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trade agreements have increasingly been used by Big Tobacco to block or impede tobacco control measures. Australia's victory in its high court is not the only legal barrier to be overcome – Philip Morris International has sued under an Australia-Hong Kong bilateral investment treaty, and three countries (Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic) have filed complaints with the World Trade Organization.
“The international trade legal regime was never envisioned to preclude governments from protecting the health of their people,” said Chris Bostic, Deputy Director of ASH. “The tobacco industry should not be permitted to abuse the international legal system in an effort to intimidate governments.”
In addition to Australia, the tobacco industry has launched trade lawsuits against Uruguay and Norway, among others. Earlier this year, the United States lost a trade dispute with Indonesia over its ban on flavorings, including candy flavorings clearly aimed at children.
We applaud Australia's courage to stand up to the tobacco industry, their determination to protect the health of their citizens and be a world leader in public health.