British American Tobacco has launched its promised constitutional challenge in the High Court against the Federal Government’s plain packaging laws for cigarettes.
BAT is arguing the legislation is unconstitutional and invalid because the Government is attempting to acquire valuable intellectual property used to identify tobacco brands without compensation.
No date for the hearing of the case has been set.
Company spokesperson Scott McIntyre says BAT is 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.
“We believe the laws are unconstitutional and invalid, and we’re obviously confident enough that we are pursuing it in the High Court.”
Mr McIntyre says the High Court proceedings will be conducted as a test case on the validity of the plain packaging laws in relation to two BAT brands, Winfield and Dunhill cigarettes.
“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 says the challenge proves tobacco companies cannot 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.”
The executive director of QUIT, Fiona Sharkie, says the challenge has little chance of winning.
“The legal opinion is very clearly on the side of the Government,” she said.
“We believe that this is just again a tactic to use up government money, taxpayer funds, in expensive court cases for something that has little chance of success.”
Last month Philip Morris also flagged it would take legal action, saying it would seek a suspension on the plain packaging laws as well as compensation for the loss of trademarks.
Federal Parliament passed the legislation on November 21 with minor amendments to the start date.
The laws are due to come into effect in December next year.
They ban the use of company logos and require all cigarette packets to be a dark green colour.
Pictures of diseased body parts, sickly babies and dying people will cover 75 per cent of each packet, and tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text will be banned.
Since it was announced in 2010, the plan has faced fierce opposition from tobacco companies.
Australia is the first country to introduce plain packaging.