Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Liberal Government Plans Plain Tobacco Packages; Legal Battle Looming

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Liberal Government Plans Plain Tobacco Packages; Legal Battle Looming

Article excerpt

Legal battle looms over tobacco pack changes

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OTTAWA - A legal showdown appears to be looming as the federal government moves ahead with plans for plain packaging of tobacco products.

Health Minister Jane Philpott is set to make an announcement Tuesday -- World No Tobacco Day -- on the proposal, which involves standardizing box sizes and prohibiting colours, logos and graphics on tobacco packages.

The proposal is sure to rekindle the industry's frustrations in Canada, much as similar measures have done in other countries.

The government is exposing itself to a legal challenge, said Imperial Tobacco spokesperson Eric Gagnon.

"We believe, like any other industry, we have the right to have our brands on the products that adult consumers purchase so that's why we are going to defend against such a measure," Gagnon said.

"We'll have to wait and see what the government proposes, but we will defend against excessive and ineffective regulation. We have in the past and like any other industry, we are still a legal product."

The potential legal dust-up comes as no surprise to longtime anti-tobacco advocate Rob Cunningham, a lawyer and senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society.

Tobacco companies will fail if they take the legal route against the government, he said, pointing to unsuccessful challenges in countries including Australia, where the highest court ruled against the industry.

This does not discourage Gagnon, however, who stressed "different laws, different countries."

"We are not going to take for granted that what happened in other countries is going to be the same verdict in Canada," Gagnon said.

"We do believe it is a fundamental right as a legal company to have those brands and sell our products. That is the core of the discussion."

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms could be used by the industry to fight back over plain packaging -- namely Section 2, which deals with fundamental freedoms.

A 2007 decision from the Supreme Court of Canada could be very useful for the federal government's fight in this regard, Cunningham said.

In its ruling, the court found federal provisions requiring health warnings to occupy at least 50 per cent of packages amounted to violations of the guarantee to free expression of tobacco manufacturers, but were justified under the reasonable limits clause of the charter. …

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