WHO Head Urges Global Support For Australia In Fight Against Tobacco

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World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan has issued a call for global support of Australia in defending its “plain packaging” tobacco law against an onslaught of legal challenges from the tobacco industry. The industry has cited trademark concerns as a top issue.

In an effort to discourage tobacco use in its country, Australia last year passed a law to go into effect later this year requiring all tobacco packages to be without logos and to carry graphic images of tobacco-related diseases.

“We must make plain packaging a big success so that it becomes the success of the world,” Chan told Jane Halton, secretary of Australia’s Department of Health and Ageing, and others attending the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Singapore.

Chan’s remarks are available here.

Tobacco multinational Philip Morris has sued Australia under a bilateral with Hong Kong, and a domestic lawsuit also has been brought. Industry also is lobbying in a recently filed dispute at the World Trade Organization, brought by several tobacco-producing nations (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 14 March 2012). The issue may provide a test of the balance between public health policies and trade policies.

According to the WHO, Halton “promised that Australia will defend itself vigorously against both suits.”

Chan said the tobacco industry is using intimidation, is “extremely aggressive” and “its teeth are bared.” She cited legal actions by industry in other countries as well, targeting anti-tobacco campaigns and “subverting” the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It is the convention that recommends measures such as plain packaging.

“The high-profile legal actions targeting Uruguay, Norway, Australia and Turkey are deliberately designed to instil fear in countries wishing to introduce similarly tough tobacco control measures,” she said.

“If we stand shoulder to shoulder, together, no tobacco industry can survive,” she said. “The fact that they are so desperate, I take it as an indication that the industry sees the writing on the wall. This is the death throe of the addicting industry.”

Chan urged young people to “use your power” with online social networking to support Australia, WHO said.

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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  1. Riaz Tayob says

    At the risk of being pedantic, will both Halton and Chan pursue some consistency: either defer to the WTO or defer to the WHO constitution. In the talks on Innovation for “neglected diseases” it was Aus (and also Halton in some instances if I recall correctly) and WHO that “pushed” for deference to the WTO on intellectual property rights. WHO was careful about creeping into the IPR mission of the WTO. Now why defer to WTO on TRIPs but not on GATS? In the GATS, all measures need to be “necessary” (which is a matter for interpretion after complaint) if commitments have been made in retail, marketing and distribution, etc. WHO’s Drager covered these issues on GATS and Alcohol and there is the convention, so it is no mystery at WHO. And who can fail to see the import of GATS Art VI.5.ii in this context?!
    Now the question is simply why does WHO come out against tobacco without as much deference to WTO rules as it shows on TRIPs. Perhaps WHO does not ‘know its place’ in the heirachy of things; or it knows it all too well…

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