JTI becomes third tobacco company to challenge UK plain packaging law

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) today filed with the High Court in London its legal challenge to the UK legislation introducing plain packaging for cigarettes and RYO tobacco products, meaning that three of the world’s biggest tobacco companies have now filed lawsuits against the UK Government over its plan to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.

Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT), along with JTI, argue the measures deprive them of property in the form of trademarks, and are seeking compensation that could extend to billions of pounds if they succeed.

In legal objections filed to the High Court, the trio also claim the measures violate European intellectual property laws. The Department of Health said it would not let policy “be held to ransom by the tobacco industry”.

The legal challenges had been anticipated, following the introduction of standardised packaging legislation in March this year.

Daniel Torras, JTI UK MD said:  “We have clearly and repeatedly made clear to the UK Government that plain packaging will infringe our fundamental legal rights without reducing smoking.  Despite the lack of evidence that plain packaging works, the Government has decided to proceed and JTI must now protect its rights in the Courts.”

Speaking to the press at the weekend, senior vice president and general counsel for PMI, Mark Firestone, said that though the companies “respect the government’s authority to regulate in the public interest” but added that plain packaging goes “too far”. 

“Countries around the world have shown that effective tobacco control can coexist with respect for consumer freedoms and private property,” he added. 

The Department of Health countered that it would not be “held to ransom by the tobacco industry.” 

“We would not have gone ahead with standardised packaging unless we considered it to be defensible in the courts,” said a health department spokesman. 

Legal papers filed at the High Court claim the proposed regulations do not provide Marlboro maker PMI enough compensation with Firestone adding that the government’s rushing out of new regulations saw “many serious questions left unanswered.” 

PMI is thought to be drawing on legal opinion from Lord Hoffman which over whether banning branding could be a breach of trademark law and by blocking internationally recognised trademarks in the UK could be in breach of the principle of free movement of goods in the EU. 

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