• April 24, 2024

WTO upholds plain packs

 WTO upholds plain packs

No eye candy

Australia’s standardized tobacco packaging law has been upheld by the World Trade Organization after a five-year legal battle, according to a story by Tom Miles and Martinne Geller for Reuters.

The Reuters story cited a Bloomberg news report that, in turn, cited ‘two people familiar with the situation’.

Although the WTO’s ruling is not expected to be made public until July, a ‘confidential draft’ said Australia’s laws were a legitimate public health measure, Bloomberg was said to have reported.

A spokeswoman for British American declined to comment on the ruling until it was made public, but suggested the complainants would keep fighting.

“As there is a high likelihood of an appeal by some or all of the parties, it’s important to note that this panel report is not the final word on whether plain packaging is consistent with international law,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Japan Tobacco also declined to comment on the ruling, but said the fact that the draft had been leaked was disconcerting and a breach of WTO rules.

“Such breaches completely undermine the integrity of the process, which has not yet run its full course,” she said.

The Reuters story said that the plodding pace of WTO decision-making prompted Australia, which had the backing of the World Health Organization, to complain that its challengers were deliberately stalling the proceedings, producing a ‘regulatory chilling’ effect on other countries wishing to follow its example.

Nevertheless, such a ruling from the WTO is likely to be interpreted as giving a green light for other countries to introduce similar laws in respect of tobacco products.

It could have implications also for other products deemed to cause health problems, such as alcohol, junk food and sugary drinks.