ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Legality of Plain Packaging under International Law

Plain packaging is recommended by the guidelines of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and has been successfully implemented in Australia since 2012. Research anticipates its effectiveness in the Indian context as well. Although strongly opposed by the tobacco industry, plain packaging measures are entirely compatible with international law.

Australia’s historic cigarette plain packaging legislation, in force since 2012, has inspired debate over similar measures in India.1 The guidelines to Articles 11 and 13 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) recommend plain packaging to “increase the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings” (WHO 2011: 59), and “to eliminate the effects of advertising or promotion on packaging” (ibid: 95). Research indicates that plain packaging could have immense public health benefits in the Indian context too (AII 2012).

Shortly after the Australian High Court upheld the plain packaging legislation, a Private Member’s Bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha proposing an amendment to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act (COTPA), 2003, to introduce plain packaging in India.2 The bill proposes standardised packaging with enlarged health warnings occupying a minimum of 60% of the principal display area of the package, allowing brand names or word marks to appear only once in a prescribed colour, size and style.3 As in the Australian legislation, this bill seeks to maximise consumer information and minimise promotional aspects of tobacco product packaging by regulating, inter alia, the use of trademarks. It prohibits the use of non-word marks, and requires use of word marks in a special manner on product packaging. If enacted, challenges to the legality of plain packaging in India may be anticipated based on the tobacco industry’s response in Australia.4

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