UK supreme court denies tobacco firms permission for plain packaging appeal

11 April 2017:

All cigarettes sold in the UK must have standardised packaging from next month after the supreme court refused permission to the tobacco industry to appeal against the new laws.

This is the final domestic legal decision, meaning that plain packaging of cigarettes will come into force on 20 May, the Department of Health said.

Rules requiring tobacco to be packaged in drab, dark brown packs with no graphic branding came into effect in May 2016, with branded packs subsequently being phased out.

Tobacco companies went to the supreme court after the court of appeal last November rejected their attempt to prevent the introduction of mandatory plain packaging of cigarettes in the UK.

British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and Philip Morris International claimed that the law would infringe their human and intellectual property rights.

The new packs are the same shape, size and colour, with two thirds of the front and back surfaces covered by pictorial health warnings, and written warnings on the sides.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, welcomed the supreme court’s decision, saying: “Standardised packaging will cut smoking rates and reduce suffering, disease and avoidable deaths.”

Smoking remains the biggest cause of premature mortality in the UK, killing more than 100,000 Britons annually, despite Public Health England figures showing a decline in the number of smokers to fewer than one in six adults.

Widespread use of e-cigarettes, nicotine patches and gum helped a record 500,000 smokers kick the habit in 2015, the agency said, bringing the number of ex-smokers in England to 14.6 million.

In 1974, more than half of men in Britain smoked, but that fell in England to just 19.1% by 2015. The rate for women declined from just over 40% in 1974 to only 14.9% in 2015.

The chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, said: “Smoking is the biggest preventable killer in this country and this legislation will save lives, so I am thrilled that the tobacco industry will not be allowed to appeal. After years of hard work, I look forward to seeing this policy now brought in, and smoking numbers fall even further.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the health charity Ash (Action on Smoking and Health UK), said the ruling finally ended attempts by “big tobacco” to overturn the UK legislation on standardised packaging.

“This is the latest in a long line of crushing legal defeats for the tobacco industry. Over the years the industry has squandered many millions of pounds of its own money in futile legal challenges, but worse still it has wasted public time and money, which could have been much better spent improving public health.”

In a sign that tobacco companies acknowledge that the tide of public opinion is turning against them, the boss of Marlboro maker Philip Morris has predicted a “phase-out period” for cigarettes.

André Calantzopoulos made the comments in November as the company launched a new product it claimed was less harmful than traditional smoking. The iQos heats tobacco but does not burn it, releases fewer toxins and is capable of replacing cigarettes in the long term, according to Philip Morris.

However, campaigners and analysts questioned whether e-cigarettes or other products such as the iQos would ever replace cigarettes.

Arnott said at the time: “Philip Morris claims to be moving towards a post-smoking future but, like other tobacco companies, it is still actively promoting smoking around the world, using methods that would be illegal in the UK.”