Australia’s Parliament passed legislation on November 21, 2011, in which all tobacco products sold in Australia will have to be in the same standard dark brown packaging with matte finish beginning on December 1, 2012.
Tobacco giant Philip Morris International has threatened to sue Australia to prevent the country from implementing the plain packaging legislation.
In a BBC report, Philip Morris Asia said it had served a notice of arbitration under Australia’s Bilateral Investment Treaty with Hong Kong. Its Australian affiliate Philip Morris Ltd (PML) will also pursue claims under Australian domestic law.
However, Australia’s bold move has garnered accolades from the World Health Organization (WHO) for becoming the first country to pass legislation requiring all tobacco products to be sold in plain packaging.
“It’s typical of the tobacco industry to respond aggressively with lawsuits and threats of lawsuits whenever a new tobacco control measure, evidence-based and protective of the public’s health, threatens to reduce its profits,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, the WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
“We urge the industry to accept the judgment of Australia’s Parliament,” he said.
Dr. Shin pointed out that this latest legislation reinforces Australia’s compliance with its obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the guidelines to which encourage countries to restrict or ban the use of logos, colors, and brand images.
Based on WHO Western Pacific Region statistics, it is estimated that two people die every minute from a tobacco-related disease. Of the world’s cigarettes, one in three is smoked in the Western Pacific region.
On World No Tobacco Day held on May 31, 2011, Australian Health and Ageing Minister Nicola Roxon was presented a special award by the WHO for her efforts to make plain packaging for tobacco products a reality in Australia.