High Court rules Australia’s plain packaging legislation constitutional

Wednesday 15 August, 2012

The High Court of Australia's decision on plain packaging represents a major victory for public health law, Director of the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer Jonathan Liberman said today.

The Court today found Australia's world-first plain tobacco packaging legislation to be constitutional.

The Court rejected claims by four multinational tobacco companies, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Philip Morris, that plain packaging constitutes an ‘acquisition of property' requiring the payment of compensation to the tobacco industry.

Mr Liberman said that the Court's decision fully vindicates the Government's decision to pursue plain packaging in the face of a massive tobacco industry scare campaign.

‘The Court's decision reinforces that the only way to respond to the tobacco industry's claims and threats is to stare them down in court. The Australian Government is to be congratulated for having the resolve to call the tobacco industry on its sabre-rattling and scaremongering.'

Mr Liberman said that the Court's decision would resound across the world, with plain packaging under consideration in several countries including India, New Zealand and the UK.

The High Court's decision would embolden other countries to pursue plain packaging in the face of tobacco industry legal threats and challenges.

Mr Liberman said that plain packaging remains the subject of consultations in the World Trade Organisation and a challenge brought by Philip Morris Asia under a bilateral investment agreement between Australia and Hong Kong.

‘The consensus among independent legal experts is that plain packaging will survive challenge in each of these forums, just as it has in the High Court of Australia," he said.

The McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer is a joint initiative of Cancer Council Victoria and the Union for International Cancer Control. Its mission is to contribute to the effective use of the law for cancer prevention, treatment, supportive care and research.

Jonathan Liberman is a member of the Australian Government's expert advisory group on plain packaging and Standing Committee on Tobacco of the Inter-Governmental Committee on Drugs.

He has also served as Policy Director of the Framework Convention Alliance on Tobacco Control (FCA), the major international non-governmental organisation working on the development and implementation of the WHO FCTC.