BAT takes legal action in row over packaging

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British American Tobacco yesterday became the second tobacco giant to launch legal action against Australian laws forcing tobacco products to be sold in drab, plain packaging from next year, following the lead of Philip Morris.

The laws, cleared by parliament, are being watched closely by governments considering similar moves in Europe, Canada and New Zealand. They have angered tobacco firms who fear they may set a global precedent and infringe on trademark rights.

BAT, lodging papers with Australia’s High Court in Sydney, said the tough world-first laws should be struck down because the government was infringing on the company’s intellectual property and branding without proper compensation.

“If the same type of legislation was introduced for a beer brewing company or a fast food chain, then they’d be taking the government to court and we’re no different,” the company’s Australian spokesman Scott McIntyre said.

Mr McIntyre said the BAT proceedings in the High Court, Australia’s supreme judicial body, would be a test case on the validity of the plain pack laws to two leading brands in Australia – Winfield and Dunhill cigarettes.

A hearing is likely next year.

Under the law, cigarettes, pipe tobacco and cigars have to be sold in olive green packs free from branding, but carrying graphic health warnings, from December 2012.

Tobacco export countries including Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Ukraine have warned they may also challenge the laws under global trade rules.