Tobacco giant asks for package payment

Amy Corderoy Health April 14, 2012

"If we're going to have a discussion about compensation we should be having a discussion about the millions of Australians who have died since 1950" ... chief executive of Cancer Council Victoria, Todd Harper. Photo: Ken Irwin

ONE of the world's biggest tobacco companies has told the High Court of Australia that it should be compensated for plain packaging laws if fewer Australians get sick or die from smoking cigarettes.

Japan Tobacco International, which owns the Camel and Benson & Hedges brands among others, also described the deadly harm caused by smoking as "alleged" in its written reply to government submissions in the High Court case.

The chief executive of the Cancer Council Victoria, Todd Harper, said tobacco companies trying to claim compensation in response to lives being saved showed the lengths to which they were willing to go.

"If we're going to be having a discussion about compensation we should be having a discussion about the million Australians who have died since 1950 … as a result of their smoking," he said.

Mr Harper said the industry was "desperate" to win the case and was willing to lose the faith of the public in the process.

"It continues to harm their case in the eyes of the public, but of course it's not in the court of public opinion any more, it's in court of law, and that's where their efforts are clearly focused."

Japan Tobacco International is one of four companies challenging the federal government's world-first laws that will force all cigarettes to be sold in drab olive-brown packaging with prominent health warnings.

The companies claim the legislation is constitutionally invalid as it acquires their intellectual property and trademarks without compensation.

The battle is particularly fraught as it is considered by both the tobacco companies and public health bodies as an international test case, with Britain, New Zealand and some Nordic countries expected to quickly follow if the law succeeds.

In its submission to the High Court, Japan Tobacco International argued that if the plain packaging reforms successfully result in decreased public health costs from smoking-related illnesses, they should be compensated because the government has benefited from acquiring their brand.

The Herald attempted to contact Japan Tobacco International for comment.