Tobacco Logo Ban Said To Get WTO Backing In Landmark Case
The World Trade Organization upheld Australia’s right to impose plain-package label restrictions on the sale of tobacco products, in a blow to the cigarette industry, according to two people close to the situation.
A WTO dispute settlement panel backed Australia’s argument that the rules it set in 2011 don’t violate trade law because they qualify as a legitimate public health measure, the people said, asking not to be identified by name because the decision isn’t yet public. The initial notification of the ruling was circulated to the parties of the dispute on May 2, according to a spokesman for the WTO who declined to comment on its content.
The decision could usher in a new wave of global tobacco restrictions from other countries that have sought to deter smoking among their citizens through the use of plain packaging rules. Australia was the first country to prohibit tobacco logos, and many countries have hesitated to implement such measures after four countries filed complaints in 2012 and 2013.
Philip Morris International Inc. and Japan Tobacco Inc. have argued that such rules could set a precedent for other countries to implement new labeling rules for tobacco, alcohol and junk food.
Imperial Brands Plc, which sells cigarettes under the Kool and Gauloises brands, led declines among tobacco stocks, dropping as much as 2.8 percent. Plain packaging may hurt smaller cigarette makers the most if smokers increasingly adopt the best-known options such as Marlboro or Camel given the absence of marketing. Imperial said Wednesday it’s exploring growth in caffeine and more e-cigarette products as more countries enact plain packaging rules.
The full WTO ruling will be released in July, the people said. All parties to the ruling — Australia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Indonesia — will then be permitted to appeal the decision, according to WTO rules.
Australian trade officials in Canberra and Geneva did not respond to requests for comment. Philip Morris didn’t respond to requests for comment and a spokeswoman for Japan Tobacco Inc. said the company had not seen a copy of the ruling.
The case was launched in 2012 and 2013 by countries including Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Indonesia, who argued that Australia’s plain packaging law imposed unfair restrictions on the use of trademarks, geographical indications and other markings in violation of several WTO agreements.
Legislators in France, Hungary, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia and the U.K., have already adopted their own plain packaging rules and similar laws are under consideration in Canada, Turkey, Singapore and South Africa.