UK shelves plans for plain cigarette packaging
The UK government is set to announce today (12 July) a decision not to proceed with plans to require cigarette packs to have standardised labels with no branding.
The British Department of Health has been consulting on the ‘branding ban’ and Anna Soubry, the public health minister, was said to be in favour.
But in a statement to British MPs today, the UK Department of Health says it needs more time to study the impact of a similar Australian law and to see how legal challenges to it are resolved.
The European Commission was also considering requiring plain packaging at EU level in its revision of the Tobacco Products Directive, but decided against it before the proposal was put forward in December. The proposal would instead allow member states to require plain packaging nationally if they wish.
Australia enacted a plain packaging ban in 2011, the first country to do so. But tobacco companies who say the law violates their intellectual property rights have brought legal challenges, including one at the World Trade Organization that is still pending. Australian courts have upheld the law.
Linda McAvan, a British centre-left MEP who is guiding the tobacco legislation through the European Parliament, tried to introduce a plain packaging requirement into the legislation. But this was rejected by the Parliament’s health committee in a vote on Wednesday (10 July). She said last month ahead of the vote that the EU should not wait for the Australian case to be resolved before acting.
“We know that tobacco companies will take the EU to court whatever happens, that is part of their tactics to keep governments from doing anything” she said. “The WTO will take its cue if it sees governments are moving ahead.”
Ireland announced earlier this year that it will bring in a law shortly introducing plain packaging, which would make it the second country in the world to do so.
New Zealand, which is also considering plain packaging, said earlier this year that it will wait for the WTO case to be resolved. Plans have also been shelved or delayed in Norway, Mexico, and South Africa.