5 May 2017:
Former health minister Nicola Roxon has hailed a leaked World Trade Organisation ruling to uphold Australia’s cigarette plain packaging laws as a “big win” for public health.
Ms Roxon, who championed the laws introduced in 2012, said she was absolutely thrilled by the outcome she said would pave the way for similar laws in other countries.
The decision has not been officially announced, but US news site Bloomberg obtained a confidential draft of the ruling.
Tobacco companies have long fought the laws in courts and international tribunals, maintaining they infringe on protected trademarks.
But Ms Roxon said the decision constituted a hard-fought victory for Australia and beyond.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with the news today because it’s a big win for Australia, both for our previous government [and] also for the current government that continued to fight so hard,” she said.
“And now the results are three to Australia, zero to the tobacco industry, and I call that a big win.”
Tobacco giant Philip Morris unsuccessfully brought a claim against Australia under investor-state dispute settlement provisions in a Hong Kong trade deal in 2011.
The company also failed in a bid to challenge the constitutionality of plain packaging laws in the High Court in 2012.
Ms Roxon said the World Trade Organisation ruling showed the tide was turning on big tobacco companies.
“We had a fight in the High Court, which we won. We had a fight in Hong Kong with Philip Morris that we won. We’ve had a fight in the WTO,” she said.
“It’s time for them to call it quits. They can’t keep fighting unless they think that simply by fighting they’ll scare people off.”
Numerous studies have shown plain packaging laws are effective in reducing the rate of people taking up smoking.
Ms Roxon said the ruling would embolden other countries to enact similar laws to reduce smoking rates.
“Governments of all colours and a lot of advocacy in the community has meant that we’ve been able to withstand pressure [from tobacco companies], but now other countries will take heart from this,” she said.
“I don’t think the industry, even when they throw everything they can at it, will be able to stop governments trying to intervene and reduce people getting addicted to this very dangerous product.
“Australia can be really proud that we’ve been leading the way on this front.”
Tobacco companies Philip Morris and British American Tobacco did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement, Trade Minister Steve Ciobo did not confirm nor deny the leaked decision.
“WTO dispute settlement cases remain confidential until finalised and circulated to WTO members,” he said.
“As the interim report remains confidential it would not be appropriate for the Government to comment at this time.”