July 6, 2012 9:04 pm

JT threatens UK over plain packaging

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Japan Tobacco International, the world’s third-biggest tobacco company by volume, has warned it will take legal action against the UK government if it implements plain packaging for cigarettes.

Speaking at the launch of a £2m advertising campaign sponsored by the company against the plain packaging proposals being considered by the Department of Health, Martin Southgate, JT’s managing director for the UK, said the company would consider taking the government to court to protect its brands if it did not “see sense”.

“We would be prepared to defend our position if it ended up in court but we don’t want to,” he said.

JT said court challenges would be considered at a UK and European Union level. He added that the company would likely make a decision in September after the UK’s DoH finished its consultation on plain packaging next month.

The warning is the latest escalation in criticism of government proposals by the tobacco industry. It worries that the UK could soon follow the example of Australia, where all tobacco products are due to be sold in identical drab packs with standardised brand names and carrying large health warnings later this year.

Alison Cooper, the chief executive of FTSE 100 constituent Imperial Tobacco, criticised the health department for being “anti-business” in May.

Philip Morris International, the maker of Marlboro, recently commissioned a report which predicted a steep increase in cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting if plain packs legislation was implemented.

JT echoed this concern. The maker of Camel and Silk Cut cigarettes said its relative UK market share could suffer as the share of the illicit trade increased.

Separately Mr Southgate attacked the independence of the health department and said there was evidence the ministry had already made its decision.

“There are indications a decision has already been made to implement [plain packaging] ... despite the lack of evidence which exists,” he said.

However, tobacco control campaigners argue plain packs could be an important tool in reducing smoking, particularly among young people who are partly attracted to smoking by brands and colourful packaging, tobacco control campaigners say.

So far only Australia has passed legislation on plain packs.

JT is party to a legal battle there accusing the government of illegally confiscating their brands. The policy is also being considered in the EU.

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