High Court rejects challenge by tobacco multinationals to standardised packaging of tobacco

19 May 2016

The action brought by British American Tobacco UK Ltd and others v Secretary of State for Health for the annulment of the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 was dismissed by Mr Justice Green in the High Court on 19 May.

One of the main purposes of standardised packaging is to render cigarette and hand rolling tobacco packaging and presentation less attractive to the eye and to the touch, especially to young people, and thus to reduce the number of young people starting to smoke and to make it easier for existing smokers to quit.  A key central argument by the tobacco companies in the case was that the Regulations, which will come into force on 20 May, are said to deprive the manufacturers of their trade marks on cigarette and hand rolling tobacco packaging.

The main complainants were the four tobacco multinationals. They claimed that the Regulations infringed a large number of provisions of EU and international law, including Article 1 of the First Protocol to the ECHR (on the right to property), the provisions on the free movement of goods within the EU, the Community Trade Mark Regulation and TRIPS. A range of arguments concerning the interpretation of the Revised Tobacco Products Directive and proportionality were also pursued by various manufacturers of tipping paper (the part of the paper which encloses the cigarette filter).

Mr Justice Green rejected each argument advanced by the claimants in a judgment of nearly 400 pages.  This judgment, which is one of the first in the world on standardised packaging measures, is likely to be highly influential in many jurisdictions. A number of countries have stated their intention to adopt standardised packaging measures similar to those in the UK.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the tobacco control NGO, intervened in support of the Secretary of State for Health.

The judgment may be found here.

Ian Rogers QC, Julianne Kerr Morrison and Nikolaus Grubeck appeared on behalf of the Secretary of State for Health.

Peter Oliver and Ligia Osepciu appeared on behalf of ASH.