The new labeling law, which bans brand logos and requires health warnings to cover 75 percent of the front of cigarettes packages and 90 percent of the back, aims to remove the allure of well-known brands. Last year, a challenge to the law brought by British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Philip Morris Australia — arguing that it was a violation of their intellectual property rights — was dismissed by the Australian High Court.
The packaging law is quickly becoming an international trade issue. Philip Morris Asia, whose headquarters are in Hong Kong, is challenging the legislation under a broad 1993 bilateral trade agreement aimed at promoting and protecting trade between Australia and Hong Kong. Philip Morris argues that by stripping its products of their brand identity, the law hurts its intellectual property in violation of that agreement.
Cuba, the world’s dominant producer of fine cigars, filed a “request for consultations” in May with Australia through the World Trade Organization, the first time the country has used the forum to confront another nation directly over its commercial laws. The Dominican Republic, Honduras and Ukraine have already challenged Australia over the issue at the W.T.O., citing “technical barriers” to trade and violations of intellectual property rights.
In another closely followed move, Japan Tobacco, Asia’s biggest publicly listed cigarette maker, said at the end of June that it had filed suit against the Thai government over its plan, announced in April, to increase the size of graphic health warnings to 85 percent of the cigarette pack cover, from 55 percent.
The taste issue comes into sharp focus at Sol Levy Tobacconist. Evelyn Platus, whose grandfather was the founding Mr. Levy, has managed the shop on a prime strip of real estate in what is now Sydney’s booming Chinatown for more than 20 years. On a recent afternoon, it was nearly empty. Her business, she said, has been hurt by high taxes and restrictive rules governing tobacco. But when it comes to plain packaging, the ire she normally reserves for the “nanny state” is pointed at Big Tobacco.