Tobacco industry legal action ‘unlikely to succeed’ against standard packs

In collaboration with the Press Association

Claims that the tobacco industry will be able to sue the Government over standardised cigarette packaging are "ludicrous and unjustified", according to an anti-smoking charity.

"This report systematically knocks away every leg of Big Tobacco’s arguments, and leaves them floored" - Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK

A legal analysis found that the legislation, being debated by MPs today, is entirely compatible with European law. 

Professor Alberto Alemanno – co-author of the report, which was funded by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK – said there was such strong evidence to support the new law that any challenge from the tobacco industry would be unlikely to succeed. 

Alison Cox, director for cancer prevention at Cancer Research UK said the report leaves the industry’s argument “floored”.

Professor Alemanno, of HEC Paris, said: "Our analysis demonstrates that under current EU law the UK Government is entitled to regulate the packaging of tobacco products well beyond what the EU prescribes.

"The UK Government therefore enjoys considerable freedom of action in regulating the presentation of tobacco products, particularly given the overwhelming evidence of the harm that tobacco consumption causes.

"There is also a carefully established and strong evidence base supporting the introduction of standardised packaging. For these reasons, we believe that any challenge by the tobacco industry against standardised packaging under European law is unlikely to succeed."

The report also found that the proposed regulations are on safe ground in relation to trademarks and the rights of people within the EU – neither of which prevent EU countries from introducing new public health legislation.

ASH chief executive, Deborah Arnott, said the legal opinion “blows out of the water the ludicrous and unjustified claims” that the tobacco industry would be due billions of pounds in compensation if the UK proceeded with standardised packaging.

"It clearly demonstrates that the UK Government has a robust case for the regulations under European law,” she said.

Arnott added that the measure has received widespread support from UK MPs, who are set to vote on regulations later this week.

“There is strong support amongst parliamentarians from right across the political spectrum for this important public health measure to protect children and save lives," she said.

Last week Ireland became the first country in Europe to ban branded cigarette packets, but the tobacco industry has already claimed they may launch a legal challenge.

Cancer Research UK’s Alison Cox added: “The public health community has been united in calling for the introduction of plain, standardised packaging of tobacco products across the UK. The growing weight of peer-reviewed evidence that standard packs reduce the appeal of smoking to children has crushed the tobacco company counter claims. 

“Now international legal experts have exposed the fatal weakness of the industry threats against EU countries who want to protect their children from tobacco marketing. This report systematically knocks away every leg of Big Tobacco’s arguments, and leaves them floored. 

“Standardised packaging is evidenced based, legal and supported by 72 per cent of UK adults. We urge MPs to vote to for this vital public health measure when they get the opportunity.”