World Trade Organization (WTO) dismissed the claims of the tobacco industry against Australia’s tobacco plain packaging law and affirmed the importance of public health.

Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras and Indonesia lodged the complaint to WTO against Australia’s plain packaging law in September 2013. Their main arguments were that plain packaging was “more trade restrictive than necessary” to protect public health, and that plain packaging violated intellectual property right. After reviews, both arguments were rejected by the panel of WTO and the report was released on 28 June 2018.

The panel recognized the objectives and effects of plain packaging as well as other tobacco control measures in reducing the exposure and use of tobacco products. It further affirmed the vital importance of public health and other societal interests. The panel concluded that the plain packaging policy is crucial to protect public health and is not more trade restrictive than necessary.

The panel also rejected complainants’ arguments on violation of intellectual property right. It emphasized that the intellectual property right does not provide for a right to use a trademark but the rights to prevent others from using the trademark, which is not affected by plain packaging.

As a result of this victory, Australia won all domestic and international challenges against its plain packaging laws, including a constitutional challenge in Australia’s High Court and an investment treaty challenge. It reassures the justifications for implementing plain packaging and demonstrates that commercial interests should be in no priority before public health.

Pictorial health warnings in 85% of cigarette pack area was fully implemented in Hong Kong in June this year. The Government should review the effectiveness and take bold actions to adopt plain packaging in near future so as to further reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products and smoking.

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