Britain's parliament has approved legislation to ban branding on
cigarette packs, drawing immediate threats of legal action from the
country's $US29 billion tobacco industry.
Aimed at improving public health and cutting the number of child
smokers, the measure is likely to crimp tobacco company profits and
emulates Australia, which in 2012 enacted a law forcing cigarettes
to be sold in plain olive green packaging with images showing the
damaging effects of smoking.
British lawmakers effectively ended years of political debate,
private lobbying and public consultation by passing the legislation
by a margin of 367 votes to 113.
"We want all children in our country to grow up free from the
burden of disease that tobacco brings," Public Health Minister Jane
Ellison said in a statement, adding that the legislation should
come into force by May 2016.
The proposal must still be debated and passed by the upper house
of parliament before becoming law.
British American Tobacco told Reuters it anticipated launching a
legal challenge within 30 days of the legislation's final
"We've been forced into a position where they're going to be
taking our property, so we will bring a legal challenge," said
Jerome Abelman, head of corporate and regulatory affairs.
Imperial Tobacco Group said that if the measure became law the
firm would be "left with no choice but to defend our legal rights
in court". Japan Tobacco International said it expected to
challenge the legislation and Philip Morris International said it
was prepared to seek compensation.
The new rules would initially take effect in England only,
though the Welsh government has said it will follow suit and
Northern Ireland and Scotland are considering a similar step.
Tobacco is responsible for 6 million deaths a year globally and
the World Health Organization estimates that number could rise
beyond 8 million by 2030.
As well as causing cancer and other chronic respiratory
conditions, smoking is a major contributor to cardiovascular
disease, the world's No. 1 killer.
"Standard packs will help reduce the number of lives blighted by
this lethal product and help us move towards a tobacco free
generation," said Harpal Kumar, chief executive of the charity
Cancer Research UK.
A YouGov opinion poll conducted in February showed 72 percent of
the British public supported plain packaging, with only 15 percent
objecting to such proposals.
In 2014, Britain's tobacco market was estimated to be worth $29
billion, according to Euromonitor International, and in the same
period the government provisionally estimated it collected 8.2
billion pounds ($14.24 billion) in cigarette duty. A pack of 20
cigarettes typically costs over 8 pounds ($12).
Tobacco firms have fiercely resisted the legislation, saying
plain pack laws, which will also force product names to be printed
in standardised fonts, infringe intellectual property rights
covering brands and will increase counterfeiting and smuggling.