Scotland Plain Packaging: Legal Threats

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In September 2013, the Scottish Government announced that it would press ahead with plans to introduce plain packaging.
See also:

* Plain Packaging Opposition in Scotland

* Scaremongering over Illicit Tobacco

* Will O’Reilly

Philip Morris International Threatens to Sue Scottish Government

In February 2014, The Scotsman newspaper revealed that PMI was also privately scaremongering to Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs) about possible legal action. The tobacco company was letting MSPs know that it intended to sue the Scottish Government if it introduced plain packaging. This is a long-used industry tactic. The industry has a history of using legal intimidation as a way of preventing public health measures being introduced.

The threat was rebutted by the three main political parties in Scotland. The Scottish Public Health Minister, Michael Matheson, told the paper that:

We would be very confident of defending any legal action from tobacco companies, having done so successfully on every previous occasion that they have taken legal action against the Scottish Government. We also note Australia has had plain tobacco packaging in place for over a year.

The Scottish Labour Health spokesman Neil Findlay added:

Public health initiatives should not be held to ransom by the commercial interests of the tobacco giants, so I would hope threats from them wouldn’t stop legislation from being passed to bring in measures that reduce the number of people smoking. The health and wellbeing of Scots should be the primary consideration.

Finally, Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader said:

I hope the Scottish Government are not intimidated by these bullies. On the one hand the industry say plain packaging won’t work, then on the other threaten to sue the government because of it. I tend to think the stronger the opposition from the smoking industry, the greater the benefits will be to our health.1

JTI Threatens Scottish Government too

That month, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) wrote to Scotland’s Public Health Minister, in a letter which could also be construed as a legal threat.2
The letter stated that “JTI would like to take this opportunity to make clear its view that Scotland could not lawfully adopt plain packaging.” It went on to add that:

Such a measure cannot lawfully be adopted at a Westminster level …. moreover matters relating to tobacco packaging are not matters within the legislative competence of the Scottish government.

The tobacco company warned that “JTI will question, and where necessary challenge, regulation that is flawed, unreasonable, disproportionate or without evidential foundation”.

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  1. David Maddox, Tobacco firms line up £500m claim over plain packs, The Scotsman, 3 February 2014, accessed February 2014
  2. JTI, Plain Packaging of Tobacco Products, Letter to Michael Matheson, 11 February 2014