Tobacco giants lose legal challenge over plain packaging ruling

Standardised packaging for cigarettes, which will become law after today's High Court ruling.
Standardised packaging for cigarettes, which will become law after today's High Court ruling.

Tobacco giants today lost their High Court challenge over the lawfulness of the Government's new plain packaging rules - the day before they are due to come into force.

A ruling in the case brought by four of the world's biggest firms was given in London by Mr Justice Green, who heard the case in December.

Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International challenged the legality of the new "standardised packaging" regulations in a judicial review action.

But Mr Justice Green dismissed all their grounds of challenge. His decision came after Europe's highest court recently rejected a series of legal challenges.

Heath Secretary Jeremy Hunt had contested the case, arguing that the regulations are lawful.

In his 386-page, 1,000-paragraph written ruling, Mr Justice Green said: "The regulations were lawful when they were promulgated by Parliament and they are lawful now in the light of the most up-to-date evidence."

Earlier this month, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the Tobacco Products Directive, which was adopted in 2014, but has been held up by the challenges, is lawful.

Under the directive, picture health warnings must cover 65% of the front and back of every packet of cigarettes, with additional warnings on the top of the pack.

It includes a ban on menthol cigarettes and "lipstick-style" packs aimed at women, and a ban on promotional statements such as "this product is free of additives" or "is less harmful than other brands".

The directive also allowed the UK to go further and introduce its own regulations requiring all tobacco packaging to be uniformly olive green with large images designed to act as health warnings.

At the heart of the ruling given by the High Court are the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015, which the companies say will destroy their valuable property rights and render products indistinguishable from each other.

The firms put forward a number of grounds of challenge, including a claim that the regulations violate a number of UK and EU laws, and that they are "disproportionate" and "must be quashed".

Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) chief executive Deborah Arnott said: "This landmark judgement is a crushing defeat for the tobacco industry and fully justifies the Government's determination to go ahead with the introduction of standardised packaging.

"Millions of pounds have been spent on some of the country's most expensive lawyers in the hope of blocking the policy. This disgraceful effort to privilege tobacco business interests over public health has rightly failed utterly."

Professor Kevin Fenton, national director for health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said: "Standard packaging is a fabulous result, not just protecting generations to come, but also offering a powerful new reason for smokers to quit."

Tobacco companies have a year to sell old stock and fully implement the changes under the directive, which is an attempt to cut the number of smokers across the EU by 2.4 million.

British Lung Foundation chief executive Dr Penny Woods said: "For too long glitzy, cleverly-designed packaging has lured young people into smoking, a habit that takes the lives of half of all long-term smokers.

"Australia introduced plain packaging in 2012 and has already seen a decline in smoking rates. If just a fraction of the 200,000 children in the UK who start smoking a year are discouraged, thousands of lives will be saved."

But Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said the new packaging rules "treat adults like children and teenagers like idiots".

He said: "Everyone knows the health risks of smoking and no-one starts because of the packaging.

"Australia was the first country to introduce standardised packaging and it hasn't worked. There is no evidence to suggest that smoking rates have fallen among children or adults as a result of the policy.

"Plain packaging is a declaration of war on consumers, because the aim is to de-normalise not just the product but also the millions of adults who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit."