Global perspective Human stories

UN hails Australian court decision against ‘desperate’ tobacco industry

Photo: WHO/T. O'Leary
WHO/T. O'Leary
Photo: WHO/T. O'Leary

UN hails Australian court decision against ‘desperate’ tobacco industry

The United Nations health agency today applauded the decision by Australia’s High Court to dismiss a legal challenge from the tobacco industry targeting the country’s new restrictive tobacco marketing laws.

In a statement strongly welcoming what she called a “landmark” ruling, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan called on other countries to follow Australia’s example and adopt an equally tough stance on tobacco marketing.

Australia is now on track to becoming the first country to prohibit branding on packs of cigarettes, requiring instead drab, olive-green packaging, through a law which will come into effect as soon as December 2012.

“With Australia’s victory, public health enters a brave new world of tobacco control,” Ms. Chan said, noting that the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products would be “a highly effective way to counter industry’s ruthless marketing tactics.”

As of 2005, the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control requires its 170 member countries to take effective steps in reducing demand and supply for tobacco products, including measures protecting people from exposure to tobacco smoke, counteracting illicit trade, and banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

“The lawsuits filed by Big Tobacco look like the death throes of a desperate industry,” continued Ms. Chan, who also expressed hope that the decision would set off a global legal “domino effect” on tobacco related issues.

“The evidence of the positive health impact of plain packaging compiled by Australia’s High Court will benefit other countries in their efforts to develop and implement strong tobacco control measures to protect the health of their people and to stand resolute against the advances of the tobacco industry,” she added.

Tobacco use, which causes up to 6 million annual deaths globally, is considered to be one of the most preventable public health threats faced by world governments. According to WHO estimates, if stronger action to limit tobacco exposure is not taken, the death toll could potentially increase to 8 million people a year.