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Japan Tobacco International and Others v. Ministry of Health (plain packaging laws) [France] [December 23, 2016]

Legal challenges to the plain packaging of tobacco products laws dismissed. 

On December 23, 2016 the Conseil d’Etat (the Council of State, the highest administrative jurisdiction in France) dismissed six legal challenges that were brought against the tobacco products plain packaging laws. Previously, in January 2016, the Constitutional Council had also upheld the law as in accordance with the constitution, on a referral from members of parliament.

In brief, six cases were brought challenging the regulations - four by the tobacco companies, one from the confederation of tobacco retailers, and one from a tobacco paper manufacturer. The Conseil d'Etat dismissed all the claims and held that:

1. The ban on using figurative, semi-figurative signs, and logos on packaging of tobacco products was valid because the brand and variant name is still permitted allowing the identification of the product.
2. Plain packaging constitutes an infringement of property rights, but that this infringement is justified in the light of the objective pursued (public health) and because the measure regulates the use of trademarks but does not completely ban them.
3. There was no 'deprivation' of property rights.
4. For the same reasons, the Conseil d'État held that the national legislation is a quantitative restriction on the importation of goods but this is in conformity with European Union law because the introduction of such restrictions is permitted where they are justified by a public health objective and the protection of human life. The court held that in this case, the challenged provisions must be considered as unable to do anything other than, over time, reduce the consumption of tobacco. The evidence in the case file also showed that neutral packaging would reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products. The measures were therefore proportionate and justified.

A summary of the decisions from the two separate courts is attached in French and English in the section on "Related Documents". 

Philip Morris SÀRL v. Uruguay [Uruguay] [July 08, 2016]

In February 2010, three subsidiary companies of Philip Morris International (PMI) initiated an investment arbitration claim at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an arbitration panel of the World Bank. PMI alleged that two of Uruguay’s tobacco control laws violated a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with Switzerland. PMI brought the claim after legal challenges in Uruguay’s domestic courts by the Philip Morris subsidiaries had failed. The panel of three arbitrators published their ruling on July 8, 2016, dismissing all PMI’s claims and awarding Uruguay its legal costs ($7 million).  

The two “Challenged Measures” required:

1.      Large graphic health warnings covering 80% of the front and back of cigarette packets; and

2.      The Single Presentation Requirement (SPR) that limited each cigarette brand to just a single variant or brand type (eliminating brand families to address evidence that some variants can mislead consumers and falsely imply some cigarettes are less harmful than others).

PMI alleged that the 80% health warnings left insufficient room on the packs for it to use its trademarks and branding as they were intended, and the SPR meant it could not market some of its brands such as Marlboro Gold. PMI therefore alleged that Uruguay had breached the terms of the BIT because the Challenged Measures: Expropriated the property rights in PMI’s trademarks without compensation; were arbitrary as they were not supported by evidence to show they would work and so did not accord PMI with Fair and Equitable Treatment;  did not meet PMI’s Legitimate Expectations of a stable regulatory environment or to be able to use their brand assets to make a profit; and that the Uruguayan courts had not dealt properly or fairly with PMI’s domestic legal challenges such that there was a Denial of Justice.

Philip Morris sought an order for the repeal of the Challenged Measures and for compensation in the region of $25 million.

The tribunal’s findings

This highly anticipated award addressed a number of fundamental legal issues concerning the balance between investor rights and the space available for states’ to regulate for public health. While there is no doctrine of binding precedent in international arbitration law, the development of an investment treaty case law and jurisprudence means that the wider value of each award can be very significant. This ruling highlighted the importance of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in setting tobacco control objectives and establishing the evidence base for measures, and confirmed that states therefore need not recreate local evidence.  It addressed the wide ‘margin of appreciation’ and deference provided to sovereign states in adopting measures or decisions concerning public health. The tribunal also identified that a state need not prove a direct causal link between the measure and any observed public health outcomes – rather that it was sufficient that measures are an attempt to address a public health concern and taken in good faith.

The ruling sets an extremely high bar for any foreign investor seeking to bring an investment arbitration challenge against a non-discriminatory public health measure that has a legitimate objective and that has been taken in good faith.

BAT v. UK Department of Health [United Kingdom] [May 19, 2016]

The judgment dismissed all grounds of challenge against the UK's standardised (or "plain") packaging regulations. The judgment has significant wider implications because Mr Justice Green carefully considered all the evidence as part of the proportionality analysis, which will be similar to the justification analysis for plain packaging in most other jurisdictions. He was highly critical of the evidence put forward by the tobacco industry and provided a damning critique of individual studies and experts as well as making wider criticisms of the tobacco companies including that they failed to disclose any internal documents about their research or consideration of the impact of plain packaging on their business or smoking rates. He also linked his conclusions to the 2006 judgment of Judge Kessler in USA v Philip Morris Inc et al when she found, upon the basis of comprehensive evidence which included internal documents, that the tobacco companies were well aware of the strong causal nexus between advertising and consumer reaction.

The judge's conclusions on whether plain packaging amounts to an expropriation of the tobacco trade marks; on their claim for compensation; on the relevance of the FCTC and its guidelines; and on the compatibility with the WTO TRIPS agreement all have wider international relevance. 

A summary of the key findings that have wider application is in the additional documents. 

The McCabe Centre has produced an analysis of the key points for other jurisdictions which can be found here: http://www.mccabecentre.org/downloads/McCabe_Centre_-_Key_Points_on_UK_plain_packaging.pdf  

Karnataka Beedi Industry Association v. Union of India [India] [May 04, 2016]

Using the powers conferred by India’s omnibus tobacco control law, the government introduced new graphic health warnings in October 2014 that, among other things, increased the graphic health warning size from 40 percent of one side to 85 percent of both sides of tobacco product packaging and amended the rotation scheme of the warnings.  The Karnataka Beedi Industry Association, the Tobacco Institute of India, and other pro-tobacco entities challenged the validity of the 2014 pack warning rules in five cases in the Karnataka High Court – Bengaluru, and the court initially stayed the implementation of the warnings via interim orders.  Following a petition by tobacco control advocates, the court lifted the stays, and a division bench of the court affirmed the decision on appeal.  The association and others challenged this ruling in the Supreme Court.  Paving the way for immediate implementation of the warnings, the Supreme Court, on May 4, 2016, directed that the matter be decided within six weeks in the Karnataka High Court by a bench constituted by the Karnataka Chief Justice and that any stays of the warnings in other high courts not be given effect until the conclusion of the matter.  The Supreme Court identified pending pack warning challenges in courts throughout India (more than 27 in number) and transferred these cases to Karnataka.  A Karnataka High Court ruling in this matter should resolve all challenges to the legality of the pack warning rules.  The case still is pending on the merits in Karnataka.

R (on the Application of) Philip Morris Brands SARL et al. v. Secretary of State for Health [European Union] [May 04, 2016]

A challenge to the validity of the European Union’s (EU) Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) 2014 brought by Philip Morris and British American Tobacco was dismissed on all grounds by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The amended TPD was adopted in April 2014 and provides a wide range of requirements relating to emissions, reporting, 65% pictorial health warnings, packaging and labeling, a ban on characterising flavors and other additives, and regulates e-cigarettes. Article 24(4) permits member states to adopt further requirements to standardise packaging. The TPD applies to all countries within the EU.

In this case, Philip Morris and BAT brought a judicial review against the United Kingdom based on the government’s intention to implement the TPD requirements in UK legislation. The tobacco companies claimed that parts of the TPD and the Directive as a whole, were invalid because it was incompatible with the EU Treaties; was not proportionate or supported by evidence; was not sufficiently harmonising in nature; and contravened the principle of subsidiarity.  The UK court hearing the case referred questions on the interpretation of EU law to the CJEU. The CJEU upheld all aspects of the TPD, including provisions to require pictorial warning labels, to prohibit menthol cigarettes, and to allow countries to prohibit cross-border sales and to adopt additional packaging restrictions, such as plain packaging. The court noted that the EU may act to prevent obstacles to the trade of tobacco products while also ensuring a high level of public health protection. The court found that the packaging and labeling requirements were proportionate and did not go beyond what were necessary and appropriate. 

In addition the court highlighted the importance of the FCTC as a tool for interpretation and stated that it could have a 'decisive influence' on the interpretation of both EU law and Member States' tobacco control legislation. 

EU Member States are obliged, under the TPD, to implement most provisions of the TPD into domestic law by May 20, 2016 (although a number of states have been late in their implementation).

United States v. Philip Morris USA Inc., et al. [United States] [February 08, 2016]

In 1999, the United States filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the major cigarette manufacturers and related trade organizations alleging that defendants, while acting as an enterprise, fraudulently misled American consumers for decades about the risks and dangers of cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke in violation of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In 2006, the court found that defendants violated RICO and that there was a reasonable likelihood that defendants would continue to violate RICO in the future. On appeal, the district court’s findings were upheld, in part, vacated, in part, and remanded, in part, to the district court. After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from both sides in the case in June 2010, the district court began to implement the 2006 final order.

As a means of preventing future RICO violations, the district court ordered the tobacco companies to issue corrective statements on five topics in which they had misled the public, including the adverse health effects of smoking and the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine. The companies challenged the language of the corrective statements ordered by the court. A previous decision upheld all of the corrective statements with the exception of the introductory sentence. In this decision, the district court found that a revised introductory statement submitted by the government is acceptable because it removes any reference to tobacco companies’ prior deceptive conduct. The judge castigated the tobacco companies for attempting to rewrite the corrective statements entirely, calling it a “ridiculous – a waste of precious time, energy, and money for all concerned – and a loss of information for the public.” The court also refused to change any of the terms in the previously agreed upon consent order. 

Philip Morris Asia v Australia [Australia] [December 17, 2015]

Philip Morris Asia challenged Australia's tobacco plain packaging legislation under a 1993 Bilateral Investment Treaty between Australia and Hong Kong. This was the first investor-state dispute brought against Australia.

Philip Morris Asia initiated the arbitration in November 2011, immediately after the legislation was adopted. Australia responded with jurisdictional objections and sought a preliminary ruling on these issues. The tribunal bifurcated the proceedings and on 18 December 2015 issued a unanimous decision agreeing with Australia's position that the tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the claim.

The main objection to jurisdiction was that at the time the dispute arose, Philip Morris Asia was not a foreign investor in Australia. The government announced its decision to proceed with plain packaging legislation in April 2010. At that time, 100% of the shares in Philip Morris Asia were owned by the parent company located in Switzerland (which had no investment treaty with Australia). Philip Morris International then undertook a restructure in 2011 which meant that Philip Morris Asia, located in Hong Kong, became the sole owner of the shares in the Australian subsidiaries. 

The Tribunal found that Claimant’s restructure was for the principal, if not the sole, purpose of gaining protection under the Treaty so as to bring a claim against the plain packaging legislation. As such Philip Morris Asia's claim was an 'abuse of rights'. This concluded the arbitration in Australia's favour, subject to finalisation of the costs claim.

Nobleza Piccardo v. Provincia de Santa Fe [Argentina] [October 27, 2015]

Nobleza Piccardo, a BAT affiliate, challenged the constitutionality of a sub-national law that established a complete ban on tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship in the Province of Santa Fe. The tobacco company argued that this measure violated freedom of expression and commercial freedoms and that sub-national governments were not entitled to legislate in these matters. The Argentine Supreme Court ruled in favor of the sub-national tobacco control law, finding that this ban was a reasonable restriction of commercial freedoms. Considering the impact of tobacco use, the Court connected these measures to be obligations derived from the right to life and the right to health. With regards to freedom of expression, the Court found that commercial speech is not entitled the same level of protection as political or social speeches. The Court also understands that health is an area of concurrent power and thus shared by both the federal and the sub-national governments. Notably, even though Argentina has not ratified the FCTC, the Court uses it as an international standard for tobacco control policies. 

United States v. Philip Morris USA [United States] [May 22, 2015]

In 1999, the United States filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the major cigarette manufacturers and related trade organizations alleging that defendants, while acting as an enterprise, fraudulently misled American consumers for decades about the risks and dangers of cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke in violation of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In 2006, the court found that defendants violated RICO and that there was a reasonable likelihood that defendants would continue to violate RICO in the future. On appeal, the district court’s findings were upheld, in part, vacated, in part, and remanded, in part, to the district court. After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from both sides in the case in June 2010, the district court began to implement the 2006 final order.

As a means of preventing future RICO violations, the district court ordered the tobacco companies to issue corrective statements on five topics in which they had misled the public, including the adverse health effects of smoking and the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine. The companies challenged the language and form of the corrective statements. In this decision, the Court of Appeals found that the tobacco companies had waived their right to challenge the wording of the corrective statements. However, the court found that an introduction to the corrective statements (explaining that a federal court has ruled that tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public) exceeded the scope of scope of remedies allowed under RICO. Finally, the court found that tobacco companies had waived their right to challenge the distribution of corrective statements via company websites, cigarette packages, and newspaper and television ads.

Black v. Secretary of State for Justice [United Kingdom] [March 05, 2015]

A prisoner claimed that smoking should be prohibited inside the prison. The court found that the national law prohibiting smoking in workplaces also applied to prisons, including state prisons. The court determined that the purpose of the law would be frustrated if it did not also apply to the government. The court found that it did not violate human rights laws or the prison rules to deny the prisoner access to a confidential complaint line to complain about smoking in the prison. 

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