Government plain packaging plan dubbed 'unlawful' by Silk Cut owner

JTI ad banned by ASA: cast doubt that plain packaging would discourage children from smoking
JTI ad banned by ASA: cast doubt that plain packaging would discourage children from smoking

The Government's moves to push through legislation for unbranded tobacco packaging have been described as "unlawful" by the owner of cigarette brands Camel, Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges.

Reacting to this morning’s surprise news that the Coalition is to put a pre-election vote to MPs ahead of May’s General Election, Gallaher Tobacco owner Japan Tobacco International (JTI) argued that an outlawing of branded packaging would deprive it of assets "worth billions of pounds".

It said that new regulations would "infringe EU requirements" and violate trademark rights, and that it would make it easier for criminals to create counterfeit cigarettes.

Opposition to the proposed regulations was also voiced by law firm CMS, which said such measures would deny brands their "proprietary rights to perfectly legal products".

Both parties add their voices to dissent expressed by the likes of Ukip leader Nigel Farage and the pro-tobacco lobby.

JTI said it was "inexplicable that the Government is rushing to legislate on this important issue, which was opposed by nearly two thirds of the respondents to a public consultation and over 40% of other EU member states have raised concerns over the plain packaging proposals".

Jeremy Blackburn, JTI’s head of communications, added: "JTI and others have repeatedly said that plain packaging would infringe EU requirements on the free movement of goods, violate property and other fundamental rights – including trademark rights – and go against obligations under EU and WTO rules.

"We have no doubt the major crime syndicates across the globe are scrutinising these proposed regulations as the UK Government prepares to provide counterfeiters with a blueprint of exactly how to copy UK tobacco packs in the future. Brand owners of products in any controversial industries should prepare for similar anti-business measures as the Government has now made it clear that regulation will be passed despite the evidence showing that plain packaging doesn’t work."

Meanwhile, law firm CMS also voiced concerns about the legality of the Government’s proposed legislation.

Tom Scourfield, CMS’s head of intellectual property, said: "There is a wider issue here, this is a first foray into depriving proprietary rights to perfectly legal products to discourage their consumption.

"What is next - chocolate or fizzy drinks sold in plain packaging to encourage consumption in moderation? Alcohol? The wider consumer products industry has good reason to be very concerned about this development."

Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority agreed with a claim made in a JTI ad that there was a lack of credible evidence that plain packaging would discourage children from smoking.

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