(Reuters) – Australia called on the world to match its tough new anti-tobacco marketing laws that will ban logos on cigarette packs, after its highest court on Wednesday dismissed a challenge from global manufacturers.
The decision means that from December 1 cigarettes and tobacco products must be sold in plain olive green packets with graphic health warnings, such as pictures of mouth cancer and other smoking-related illnesses.
Although the impact of Australia on their global business is small, the law could have a major effect if it is adopted as a precedent in other countries, especially the fast-growing economies that cigarette firms see as markets of the future.
The laws are in line with World Health Organisation recommendations and are being watched closely by countries including Britain, Norway, New Zealand, Canada and India, who are considering similar measures to help fight smoking.
British American Tobacco (BATS.L), Britain’s Imperial Tobacco (IMT.L), Philip Morris (PM.N) andJapan Tobacco (2914.T) challenged the laws in Australia’s High Court, claiming the rules were unconstitutional because they effectively extinguished their intellectual property rights.
In a brief statement, the High Court said a majority of its seven judges believed the laws did not breach Australia’s constitution. A full judgement will be released later.
The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 1 billion people around the world are regular smokers, with 80 percent in low- and middle-income countries.
Shares in tobacco groups dipped lower with BAT off 1.8 percent at 3,384 pence and Imperial Tobacco down 1.9 percent at 2,486 pence by 11:40 a.m. British time in a slightly lower Londonmarket.
Supporters of the measure hailed the legal victory as an important step for public health in Australia and any other countries that may copy it.
Australian Attorney-General Nicola Roxon hailed the ruling as “a watershed moment for tobacco control around the world”.
“The message to the rest of the world is big tobacco can be taken on and beaten,” said Roxon, whose father, a smoker, died of cancer when she was 10.
“Without brave governments willing to take the fight up to big tobacco, they’d still have us believing that tobacco is neither harmful nor addictive,” she said after the ruling.
According to the global Tobacco Atlas, a report on smoking produced by the World Lung Foundation and the American Cancer Society, 17 percent of male deaths and 14 percent of female deaths in Australia are due to tobacco.