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World Trade Organization Backs Australia On Plain Tobacco Packaging

The landmark ruling provides confidence and encouragement to governments considering plain packaging

(New York, USA) – In a decisive victory for the right of governments to protect health,  a World Trade Organization (WTO) adjudication panel has ruled that Australia’s implementation of plain standardized packaging for tobacco products is not inconsistent with its obligations under international trade and intellectual property agreements such as TRIPS and TBT. This ruling adds to those made in a number of national and international courts that adopting plain packaging is a legitimate action to protect public health. The culmination of this six-year case, brought by parties including Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia and Ukraine, represents a major setback for the tobacco industry in its efforts to prevent the adoption of plain packaging.

José Luis Castro, President and Chief Executive Officer, Vital Strategies commented: “Each day the tobacco industry continues to sell its dangerous products to children through powerful design and branding on its packaging. Today’s ruling by the World Trade Organization on Australia’s plain packaging law vindicates Australia and other countries and their efforts to implement plain packaging. This ruling also provides reassurance to countries currently considering this important public health measure. Plain packaging puts warning messages about tobacco’s real harms front and center is an effective tobacco control measure – which is why the industry is so desperate to prevent it.

“We are under no illusions that big tobacco’s legal juggernaut will keep rolling – but it is abundantly clear that its legal arguments are without merit. More countries need to implement plain packaging – alongside other proven health interventions like high tobacco taxes and comprehensive smokefree laws – to reduce the seven million deaths related to tobacco each year, and the millions of people suffering tobacco-related health and economic harm. We applaud the current and previous administrations in Australia, which have shown true global leadership and strength in standing up to the tobacco industry and its supporters in several courts. They have put health before the tobacco industry’s profits – it’s time all countries did the same.”

Plain packaging is already mandatory on tobacco packs sold in Australia, France, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. It is due to come into effect this year in Ireland (September 30th) and Norway (July 1st), in Hungary in 2019 and in Slovenia in 2020.  Plain packaging also is under consideration in at least 16 other jurisdictions, including Canada, Uruguay, Thailand, Singapore, Belgium, Romania, Chile, Turkey, Taiwan, Jersey, Guernsey, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Finland, and South Africa.

It has been reported that several parties to the WTO legal action received technical and financial support from British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International and other groups with links to the tobacco industry.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact