After Australia introduced plain-packaging laws for cigarettes back in 2012, some big tobacco-producing countries called foul. Cuba, Indonesia, Honduras and Dominican Republican complained to the World Trade Organization (WTO) about the move, claiming that Australia was breaking international agreements on free trade and intellectual property rights.
On Thursday, the WTO delivered a lengthy report on the matter, dismissing the countries’ claims. So Australia is free to continue selling cigarettes in drab, olive-colored packaging without no branding beyond the manufacturer’s name in small print, and with large and graphic health warnings dominating the packaging.
The move will likely have major ramifications around the world.
Several countries have already followed Australia’s lead—France, the U.K., Ireland, Hungary, Norway and New Zealand—and more are set to follow. And the knock-on effects could extend beyond tobacco to other harmful foodstuffs, such as junk food and alcohol.
“The ruling clears another legal hurdle thrown up in the tobacco industry’s efforts to block tobacco control and is likely to accelerate implementation of plain packaging around the globe,” the World Health Organization said in a statement.
According to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Honduras has said it will appeal the decision, claiming that the WTO made legal and factual errors in its decision.
Australia is ready to continue fighting for its law, though. “We will not shy away from the right to protect the health of Australians,” said trade and rural health ministers Steven Ciobo and Bridget McKenzie in a statement quoted by the BBC.
But does plain packaging do what it’s supposed to? Studies suggest it does—the introduction of plain packaging in Australia increased the numbers of smokers trying to kick the habit.