What is spent to oppose plain packaging?

7 July 2018:

It has been revealed Australia spent about AUS$39 million to defend their plain packaging law in the bilateral-investment treaty dispute between Australia and Philip Morris Asia for the financial year 2011-12 through to October 2016. In another WTO case, it is not known how much Indonesia spent these six years to challenge Australia’s plain packaging law. This important question is being posed to the Indonesian government considering they have limited funds for tobacco control campaigns.

The Indonesian Foundation for Consumer Protection (YLKI) said state budget has been wasted and has called for an audit on the Indonesia government’s expenditure in hiring an international lawyer in bringing this challenge since the government does not support international campaigns to reduce tobacco use.

What is also not known is the tobacco industry’s involvement in supporting the challenge. The WTO Panel received 35 unsolicited amicus curiae submissions before 27 April 2015 and five unsolicited submissions after the deadline (Page 69). The affiliations of these groups give a good idea of where the opposition to plain packaging comes from. Table 1 provides the categories of these groups.

Table 1: Categories of unsolicited submissions on Australia’s case

Transnational tobacco companies are members of many business-related organisations and are supported by their allies. This is clearly reflected in the large number of unsolicited amicus curiae submissions to Australia’s WTO case.

Chambers of Commerce, particularly the United States Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) played a prominent role in contributing to the number of submissions. The AMCHAM has been exposed as a known lobby group used by the tobacco industry to fight tobacco control in many countries. For this WTO case, the AMCHAM Thailand also submitted a brief.

European Chamber of Commerce is the other group that mobilised the filing of briefs. Besides a brief from the EU-ASEAN Business Council, several country affiliates of the EU-ABC also filed briefs – Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Lao PDR and Thailand. PMI, BAT and JTI are active members of these Chambers.

A single individual can play an active role in opposing plain packaging if he/she holds a position of influence (Figure 1).  Malaysia’s Committee on Intellectual Property Rights is headed by an IP lawyer from the law firm representing JTI, and the Deputy Head is the Corporate Affairs Manager of Philip Morris (Malaysia). A PMI executive from EuroCham Singapore represents PMI in the EuroCham. The Managing Director of Lao Tobacco Ltd is in the Board of European Chamber of Commerce in Lao PDR (ECCIL) and they also submitted a brief.

Figure 1

WHO FCTC Article 5.3 Guidelines, Recommendation 5.3 calls on governments to have a registry of representatives of the tobacco industry which will help them identify groups and individuals. For more information on tobacco industry affiliates and front groups in the ASEAN region, see SEATCA website here. For international listing of tobacco industry lobby groups, see TobaccoTactics.