Plain packaging gets UK green light as court dismisses legal challenge

The High Court of England and Wales has rejected a challenge to legislation which introduces plain packaging for tobacco products. The move came two weeks after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the new EU Directive on Tobacco Products is valid, meaning that the extensive standardisation of packaging, the future EU-wide prohibition on menthol cigarettes and upcoming special rules for electronic cigarettes are all lawful.

In March 2015 members of Parliament voted to approve the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations. Following the vote, a challenge was launched by tobacco companies at the High Court. In his ruling, Justice Green rejected their request for review.

Considering the argument that the regulations violate the fundamental right to respect for property (ie, trademarks, copyright and goodwill), amounting to unlawful expropriation without fair compensation, the judgment stated: “Title to the rights in issue remains in the hands of the tobacco companies; the regulations curtail the use that can be made of those rights but they are not expropriated. Indeed, the rights remain important in the hands of the tobacco companies because the word marks can still be used on packaging and will serve their traditional function as an identifier of origin.”

The United Kingdom has now implemented the plain packaging regime. There is a one-year transitional period, to May 2017, to allow for the sell-through of old stock.

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