Tobacco firms lose High Court battle over plain packaging

It has been ruled by the European High Court that from Friday 20 May 2016, plain packaging of cigarettes will be mandatory. The challenge against the new uniform packaging rules was dismissed on Thursday 19 May 2016.

The case was brought by four of the world’s biggest tobacco firms: Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International.

Following Thursday’s ruling, companies have a year to comply with the new laws. Under the legislation, all tobacco packaging in the UK must be uniformly green, and a large health warning image must cover at least 65% of the front and back of every packet, with additional warnings at the top and bottom of the packaging. Under the new laws, packets of 10 cigarettes will be banned. In addition, menthol and ‘skinny’ cigarettes will be banned from 2020, and promotional statements outlining how a specific brand may be less harmful than other brands are also banned.

New rules have also been implemented regarding the amount and strength of liquid permitted in e-cigarettes. This has come under sharp attack, in which it has been claimed that the laws restrict consumer and individual freedom, and that they will ‘condemn thousands’ who would have otherwise switched from cigarettes to e-cigarettes ‘to an early death’.

The new laws were challenged on the basis that they were not compliant with UK and EU legislation, and that the measures were disproportionate to the aim. The Claimant’s alleged that the new laws saw the European Union in ultra vires of its powers over EU Member States. It was held, however, that they ‘did not go beyond the limits of what is appropriate and necessary’.

The aim of the legislation is that standardised packaging will reduce smoking rates, save lives and see a generation grow up smoke-free.

Japan Tobacco International has indicated that they intend to appeal the ruling.