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Tobacco giants fail to overturn landmark Australian laws

Australia's highest court has ruled that new plain packaging laws for cigarettes are legal, following a challenge from global tobacco companies. The ground-breaking laws are expected to have global implications.

The High court of Australia ruled on Wednesday that the latest anti-smoking legislation did not breach the country's constitution after a legal challenge from four tobacco companies.

Laws passed last year will require cigarettes and tobacco products to be sold in almost identical olive green packs with large health warnings from December 1.

Tobacco giants British American Tobacco (BAT), Britain's Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco banded together to contest the legislation. They argued it represented "an acquisition of [their] property otherwise than on just terms," but this was dismissed by the court. A full judgment will be released at a later date.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon described the ruling as "a victory for all those families who have lost someone to a tobacco related illness."

"This is a watershed moment for tobacco control around the world," she said in a statement. "Australia's actions are being closely watched by governments around the world. Other countries might now consider their next steps."

Landmark case

But BAT Australia spokesman Scott McIntyre warned that the laws "will only benefit organized crime groups which sell illegal tobacco on our streets."

"Even though we believe the government has taken our property from us, we'll ensure our products comply with the plain packaging requirements and implementation dates," he added.

Wednesday's ruling is widely considered a test case for countries including Britain, Canada and New Zealand who are mulling similar restrictions on tobacco advertising. 

Under the Australian legal system the tobacco companies cannot appeal further, removing the final hurdle before the packaging laws come into force.

ccp/crh (dpa, AFP)