British American Tobacco Sues Australia Over Packaging Law

Tobacco company launched legal action against the Australian government, challenging the country's tough new law that ban logos from cigarette packs.

SYDNEY (AP) -- British American Tobacco launched legal action against the Australian government on Thursday, challenging the country's tough new law that ban logos from cigarette packs.

The move comes less than two weeks after Australia's Parliament passed the legislation, which forces tobacco companies to remove their distinctive colors and logos and instead print their brand names in a tiny font on drab, olive-green packs. The packs will also feature graphic images highlighting the negative effects of smoking, such as cancer-riddled mouths.

Australia is the first country in the world to pass such a strict packaging law, which is meant to strip away any lingering glamour associated with smoking.

The legislation, which takes effect on Dec. 1, 2012, sparked immediate outrage from tobacco companies. Hong Kong-based Philip Morris Asia has also filed legal action against the government, and other cigarette makers have threatened to do the same.

British American Tobacco, the Australian market leader, filed its lawsuit in the nation's High Court on Thursday, arguing that the legislation is unconstitutional and violates intellectual property rights.

"As a legal company selling a legal product we have consistently said we will defend our valuable intellectual property on behalf of our shareholders as any other company would," company spokesman Scott McIntyre said in a statement. "If the same type of legislation was introduced for a beer brewing company or a fast food chain, then they'd be taking the government to court and we're no different."

Health Minister Nicola Roxon has vowed to fight the tobacco companies in court.

"Let there be no mistake, big tobacco is fighting against the government for one very simple reason -- because it knows, as we do, that plain packaging will work," Roxon said in a statement. "While it is fighting to protect its profits, we are fighting to protect lives."

Tobacco companies are already banned from advertising on Australian billboards and in the country's magazines, and smoking in many public places is restricted.