Philip Morris Asia Ltd. (PMA) [corporate website] on Monday initiated legal proceedings [press release] on behalf of its Australian subsidiary Philip Morris Ltd. [corporate website] against the Australian government to block new plain package labeling requirements for tobacco products set to go into effect in December 2012. The company is also seeking compensation for the loss of value of its trademarks and Australian investments. The new labeling requirements were passed by the Australian Senate [JURIST report] last week followed by the passage in the Australian House [press release] on Monday. One hour after the legislation passed, PMA, a Hong Kong based company, filed a Notice of Arbitration under Australia's Bilateral Investment Treaty with Hong Kong [text, PDF] which was signed in 1993. PMA spokesperson Anne Edwards commented on the announcement:
We are left with no option. The Government has passed this legislation despite being unable to demonstrate that it will be effective at reducing smoking and has ignored the widespread concerns raised in Australia and internationally regarding the serious legal issues associated with plain packaging.The new regulations require that cigarettes be sold in generic, olive green packages, without branding or logos. The packages will also have graphic warnings [AUS Health Dept. backgrounder] of the potential health risks of smoking.
Tobacco packaging is at issue in the US as well. Earlier this month a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] granted a temporary injunction to block the implementation [JURIST report] of new requirements of graphic image and textual warning labels imposed by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text]. A group of four tobacco companies had sued the US government [JURIST report] in August claiming that new cigarette labeling regulations [FDA materials] violate their First Amendment [text] rights. In 2009, US President Barack Obama [official website] signed the FSPTCA into law [JURIST report], granting the FDA certain authority to regulate tobacco products. The legislation heightens warning-label requirements, prohibits marketing "light cigarettes" as a healthier alternative and allows for the regulation of cigarette ingredients.