Big tobacco launches High Court challenge

British American Tobacco (BAT) has launched its promised High Court challenge to cigarette plain packaging legislation.

BAT argues the ban is invalid because the federal government is trying to acquire valuable intellectual property without compensation.

BAT lodged the writs launching its challenge in the High Court Sydney registry on Thursday.
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No date for the hearing of the case has been set but it’s likely to be no earlier than the second quarter of next year.

BAT spokesperson Scott McIntyre said it was a legal company selling a legal product.

“We have consistently said we will defend our valuable intellectual property on behalf of our shareholders as any other company would,” he said in a statement.

“If the same type of legislation was introduced for a beer brewing company or a fast food chain, then they’d be taking the Government to court and we’re no different.”

The move follows legal action launched by tobacco company Philip Morris Asia on November 21, which served a notice of arbitration with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, claiming the Commonwealth is essentially stealing its brands.

Under the federal government’s tobacco plain packaging legislation, all tobacco products will have to be sold in drab olive-brown packs from December 2012. Graphic health warnings will dominate the packages instead of brand names and logos.

Mr McIntyre said High Court proceedings would be conducted as a test case on the validity of the tobacco plain packaging law in relation to two BAT brands, Winfield and Dunhill.

If successful, the decision should apply to other property and brands sold by BAT.

“Obviously we’d rather not be in a situation where we’re forced to take the Government to court but unfortunately for taxpayers the Government has taken us down the legal path,” he said.

Health minister Nicola Roxon said big tobacco just couldn’t give up their addiction to legal action.

“They have fought governments tooth and nail around the world for decades to stop tobacco control,” she said in a statement.

“Let there be no mistake, big tobacco is fighting against the government for one very simple reason - because it knows, as we do, that plain packaging will work.

“While it is fighting to protect its profits, we are fighting to protect lives.”

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