Tobacco firms consider options following UK plain packaging ruling


Tobacco firm JTI is considering an appeal in the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeal last week rejected an appeal against the implementation of plain packaging on tobacco packs.

In May this year, under a new EU directive, it became illegal in the UK to produce the familiar heavily branded packaging for tobacco products. All newly printed packs must be plain except for images accompanied by health warnings and feature no special typeface or distinctive markings or colours. Companies have until May next year to sell off their remaining branded packs.

A group of companies including Japan Tobacco International, British American Tobacco, Imperial and Phillip Morris attempted and failed to block the new regulations’ implementation in the High Court and went on to appeal the decision. Last week their arguments were again rejected.

UK managing director of JTI, Daniel Sciamma, said the decision endorsed the confiscation of company brands.

“We have repeatedly argued that plain packaging is unlawful and will not achieve the claimed effect of reducing smoking. It is not working in Australia; the decline in smoking rates hasn’t accelerated since plain packaging was introduced nearly four years ago and the black market has grown.

He called the decision “commercial vandalism” that set a dangerous precedent for other targeted industries.

“We are considering an appeal to the Supreme Court,” he added.

British American Tobacco said it was considering its options following the ruling and that it did not necessarily mark the end of the challenge. In a statement from the company a spokesman also raised concern about the wider implications of the packaging ruling.

"In upholding the original decision, we remain concerned that the Court of Appeal has made many of the same fundamental errors of law as the original judge. These are issues of significant constitutional and commercial importance which, if left unchallenged, would have serious implications for other legitimate businesses and for the ability of the government to act first and justify later when it comes to regulation.”

Mike Ridgway, spokesman for the Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance (CPMA) which represents a consortium of seven UK print and packing organisations said the decision was an attack on brands 

“We are now hearing murmurings that this will continue into other sorts of brands in alcohol, confectionary and snack foods for example.

“From a packaging industry perspective the result of these increased packaging regulations has meant that the tobacco industry has shut their last factories in the UK, and the spin off has been that the last two tobacco packaging manufacturers – Amcor in Bristol and MPS in Bradford – have closed this year."

Ridgway added: “The expansion of plain packaging into other areas is a real concern and needs to be monitored very carefully. Brand managers need to have this on their radars."

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