The World Trade Organization (WTO) has reaffirmed its earlier decision that Australia’s tobacco plain packaging is a legitimate policy measure that is making a meaningful contribution to public health.
The decision by the WTO Appellate Body last night rejected the appeals brought in 2018 by the Dominican Republic and Honduras and confirmed earlier findings that Australia’s tobacco plain packaging measure was consistent with WTO rules.
Minister for Health, Greg Hunt said the decision reaffirmed the Morrison Government’s ability to take action to protect Australians’ health.
“This is a fantastic win not just for Australia, but for governments around the world who want to reduce the terrible toll of sickness and death caused by smoking,” Minister Hunt said.
“Our Government has consistently maintained that tobacco plain packaging is a legitimate measure designed to protect public health, and fully respects our international trade and investment obligations.
“We were the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging, in 2012. This decision affirms Australia as a world leader in fighting the harmful effects of tobacco.”
Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the WTO decision ended the litigation proceedings against Australia’s plain packaging laws.
“The Government warmly welcomes this WTO decision that confirms our tobacco packaging laws are consistent with Australia's international trade and investment obligations,” Minister Birmingham said.
“We have robustly defended Australia’s right to introduce measures to protect the health of Australians and this WTO ruling reaffirms that this legislation is within the international trade rules.”
Smoking rates in Australia have declined significantly over the past two decades, from 22.3 per cent in 2001 to 13.8 per cent in 2017-18. But the latest statistics show tobacco use still contributed to an estimated 21,000 deaths, or more than one in eight, in 2015.
The Morrison Government, together with the state and territory governments, are committed to reducing the prevalence of smoking and its associated health, social and economic costs, and the inequalities it causes.
Minister Hunt said the Government was committed to further reducing smoking rates, aiming to reduce the rate to below 10 per cent by 2025. He said the National Tobacco Strategy and the current tobacco control legislation were both being reviewed.
“While we have come a long way, too many Australians continue to die from tobacco-related illness,” he said, “Plain packaging is just one of the many measures the Government is taking to reduce the toll of tobacco smoking.”
“Our 10-year National Preventive Health Strategy and has committed $31.6 million over four years from 2019–20 to reduce smoking prevalence. This includes $20 million over three years to develop a new National Tobacco Campaign to encourage smokers to quit,” Minister Hunt said.