Court battle ahead over plain packs vote

TOBACCO firms have confirmed they will be taking legal action against new plain packaging regulations.
Yesterday, the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of legislation that would see plain packaging introduced for cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco, with 367 MPs in favour and 113 opposed on a 73% turnout.
The Government plans to implement plain packaging at the same time as the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive, which adds additional restrictions such as a ban on packs of less than 20 sticks or 30g of tobacco. Under the law, only new, compliant packaging may be produced by manufacturers from 20 May, 2016 and only compliant packaging may be sold in retail outlets from 21 May, 2017.
The regulations now need to be approved by the House of Lords in order to become law. A motion to approve the regulations in the House of Lords is scheduled for Monday, 16 March, but tobacco manufacturers have already declared their intentions to challenge the legislation in court.
Ronald Ridderbeekx, head of corporate and regulatory affairs for British American Tobacco UK, said: “We are disappointed that the House of Commons today voted to approve regulations to implement plain packaging in the UK.
“We have always made it clear to the UK Government that the measure is unlikely to achieve its public health goals, but that it risks increasing the illegal tobacco market, takes choice away from consumers and damages thousands of small retail businesses.
“We have strongly supported retailers in their efforts to draw the attention of politicians to the likely impact of plain packaging on them. Retailers are busy preparing to implement the retail display ban at great cost and disruption. Though a majority of MPs have ignored the valid arguments of retailers, many have shown understanding of the challenges that retailers face. To see 113 MPs vote against the regulations is proof that the message got through.
“We will now commence a legal challenge against the UK Government on the basis that plain packaging violates a number of UK, EU and International laws and illegally takes our valuable property from us.”
Daniel Torras, Managing Director at JTI UK, said: “This divisive legislation has been rushed through parliament, with little regard for proper scrutiny and debate. Regulators have disregarded the results of public consultations, evidence reviews and impact assessments, not to mention the overlap with other legislation such as the ban on displaying tobacco in shops and the wide-ranging EU Tobacco Products Directive.
“The Government is using the General Election as the finishing line and has hurried this policy along, stifling debate among MPs and giving little opportunity for opposing views to be aired.
“We consider this legislation to be unlawful, JTI therefore expects to challenge the legislation through the legal channels available to us.”
Imperial Tobacco also indicated it would pursue legal action if the plain packaging becomes law.
Duncan Cunningham, head of UK corporate and legal affairs for the firm, said: “We remain clear that the introduction of plain packaging legislation would be a mistake.
“The evidence from Australia demonstrates that it won’t change consumption trends or reduce youth smoking but will play into the hands of criminals who profit from illicit trade. This policy is bad for business.
“If plain packaging passes into law, we would regrettably be left with no choice but to defend our legal rights in court as we have a fundamental right to differentiate our brands from those of our competitors.”
Monday’s motion in the House of Lords will go through immediately ‘on the nod’ unless a member of the Lords tables a ‘motion to regret’ or ‘motion to note’, in which case there will be a debate and potentially a vote if it is pushed, likely taking place on the same day.
As such, many expect the UK’s plain packaging regulations to formally come into law on Monday.