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Australia takes on big tobacco in court

18 april 2012, 16:37
Australia Tuesday said it was confident of seeing off a court challenge by big tobacco firms to plain-packaging for cigarettes in a test case being watched by governments around the world, AFP reports.

Cigarette companies, led by British American Tobacco (BAT), are contesting the law in a hearing Tuesday, claiming it infringes their intellectual property rights by banning the use of brands and trade marks on packets.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon rejected the claim and said the government believed it would successfully defend the legislation, which will see all cigarettes sold in the same drab olive-green packets from December 1.

"We're very confident," Roxon told ABC Radio.

"We carefully got advice and have constructed this legislation in a way that it will have the most public health impact and that hopefully it will also withstand a challenge.

"We're very conscious that we're being watched around the world."

Roxon said the packets, which will be stripped of logos and include graphic health warnings featuring diseased body parts and sick babies, were an attempt to reduce the number of people smoking.

Australia is the first country to mandate plain-packaging, but the ground-breaking move is being closely watched by other countries considering similar approaches, including Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

"From the government's perspective, it's about strongly defending an important policy decision that we've made in the health area that we think can save Australian lives," Roxon said.

The test case was expected to see BAT, Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco Australia and Japan Tobacco International argue the government has passed a law that acquires tobacco firms' valuable brands and intellectual property.

But Roxon said the Australian government had for decades regulated the sale and advertising of tobacco and the latest rules were simply another measure.

"I think big tobacco's throwing everything at it because they're scared it will be successful and they're scared it will be copied then around the world," she said.

The government conducted testing to see which colours and images would best deter people from picking up a packet of cigarettes, determining the drab olive-green combined with a graphic warning worked best.

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