* Will force product names to appear in standard font
* Industry says infringes property rights, could boost fakes
* Measure aimed at improving health, deterring child smokers
(Adds further threats of legal action)
By William James and Martinne Geller
LONDON, March 11 Britain's parliament approved
legislation on Wednesday to ban branding on cigarette packs,
drawing immediate threats of legal action from the country's $29
billion tobacco industry.
Aimed at improving public health and cutting the number of
child smokers, the measure is likely to crimp tobacco company
profits and emulates Australia, which in 2012 enacted a law
forcing cigarettes to be sold in plain olive green packaging
with images showing the damaging effects of smoking.
British lawmakers effectively ended years of political
debate, private lobbying and public consultation by passing the
legislation by a margin of 367 votes to 113.
"We want all children in our country to grow up free from
the burden of disease that tobacco brings," Public Health
Minister Jane Ellison said in a statement, adding that the
legislation should come into force by May 2016.
The proposal must still be debated and passed by the upper
house of parliament before becoming law.
British American Tobacco told Reuters it
anticipated launching a legal challenge within 30 days of the
legislation's final approval.
"We've been forced into a position where they're going to be
taking our property, so we will bring a legal challenge," said
Jerome Abelman, head of corporate and regulatory affairs.
Imperial Tobacco Group said that if the measure
became law the firm would be "left with no choice but to defend
our legal rights in court". Japan Tobacco International
said it expected to challenge the legislation and Philip Morris
International said it was prepared to seek compensation.
The new rules would initially take effect in England only,
though the Welsh government has said it will follow suit and
Northern Ireland and Scotland are considering a similar step.
Tobacco is responsible for 6 million deaths a year globally
and the World Health Organization estimates that number could
rise beyond 8 million by 2030.
As well as causing cancer and other chronic respiratory
conditions, smoking is a major contributor to cardiovascular
disease, the world's No. 1 killer.
"Standard packs will help reduce the number of lives
blighted by this lethal product and help us move towards a
tobacco free generation," said Harpal Kumar, chief executive of
the charity Cancer Research UK.
A YouGov opinion poll conducted in February showed 72
percent of the British public supported plain packaging, with
only 15 percent objecting to such proposals.
In 2014, Britain's tobacco market was estimated to be worth
$29 billion, according to Euromonitor International, and in the
same period the government provisionally estimated it collected
8.2 billion pounds ($14.24 billion) in cigarette duty. A pack of
20 cigarettes typically costs over 8 pounds ($12).
Tobacco firms have fiercely resisted the legislation, saying
plain pack laws, which will also force product names to be
printed in standardised fonts, infringe intellectual property
rights covering brands and will increase counterfeiting and
($1 = 0.6661 pounds)
(Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Guy
Faulconbridge and Alison Williams)