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Philip Morris challenging Norway tobacco display ban

An Oslo district court on Monday began hearing a suit initiated by tobacco company Philip Morris [corporate website] against Norway [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] for the country's display ban [text, in Norwegian] on tobacco products. The company argues that the ban is in violation of the European Economic Area (EEA) [official website] rules because it makes competition too difficult. The Norwegian Cancer Society [advocacy website, in Norwegian], a group that will represent the country in this case, argued that the ban will decrease tobacco use by blocking the products from being marketed to youth. The tobacco company countered by arguing that the ban does not effectively prevent the increase in tobacco sales but rather makes it impossible or really difficult for adult smokers to choose from the various tobacco products. The suit, filed in March 2010, seeks to overturn the display ban while not addressing any other tobacco-related laws in Norway. The Oslo court, as per the company's request, asked for an advisory opinion by the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) [official website] court before the case went to trial. The court in turn responded that the display ban could be seen as violating EEA rules by interfering with the free flow of goods while on the other hand, the underlying policy of the ban was in compliance with EEA rules. Thus, the Oslo court was given the final authority to rule over the case.

Due to health problems associated with their products, tobacco companies are facing various laws that interfere with their distribution and marketing efforts around the world. In the US, tobacco companies are facing regulations that will compel them to place prescribed warning labels on their packages. In April, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] heard [JURIST report] oral arguments over the constitutionality of a new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] regulation requiring cigarette packaging and advertisements to display more prominent graphic health warning labels. A month earlier a judge in the same court had held [JURIST report] that the regulation was unconstitutional because it violated tobacco companies' First Amendment rights. In November, Philip Morris Asia Ltd. (PMA) filed a suit against the Australian government that passed [JURIST reports] new regulations requiring tobacco companies to sell its products in a generic, olive green packages without branding or logos.

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