The World Trade Organisation has received complaints about Australia’s its planned tobacco packaging laws from the Ukraine and Honduras, with the Dominican Republic likely to join the dispute as well.
The countries making the complaints say that the planned laws unfairly restricted trade. British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris have challenged the Australian legislation in High Court, under which they would be forced to use plain packaging.
The head of the Australian Federal health department, Jane Halton, has said the tobacco companies were providing legal advice to WTO members to encourage them to take action against Australia. In a video message for the World Health Organisation, she claimed complaints were designed to try to intimidate the Australian government and Australian officials to actually ask them to relent in their efforts to protect the public health of their citizens. Other experts say that by using other countries as proxy, it created the appearance that plain packaging was opposed by entities other than just the tobacco companies.
A number of countries, including New Zeland, are taking an interest in the complaints, with some seeing them as test cases in the struggle by tobacco firms to counter growing global action by governments that has seen tighter rules on cigarette sales over the past decade.