08/15/2012 01:33 EDT | Updated 10/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Cigarette Pack Logo Ban: Anti-Smoking Groups Want Ottawa To Adopt Australian Rule

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A smoker holds a cigarette in central Sydney on August 15, 2012. Global tobacco firms lost a 'watershed' court challenge to Australia's plain packaging laws for cigarettes on August 15 in a closely-watched case health advocates said will have a worldwide impact. The High Court of Australia ruled the measures, forcing cigarettes and tobacco products to be sold in drab, uniform packaging with graphic health warnings from December 1 this year, did not breach the country's constitution. AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/GettyImages)

TORONTO - Anti-smoking groups are urging Ottawa to follow Australia's lead in barring tobacco companies from displaying their logos on cigarette packs.

Australia's highest court on Wednesday dismissed a challenge from global tobacco manufacturers against the so-called plain packaging law.

The law requires cigarette and tobacco products to be sold in uniform olive green packets with large graphic health warnings and a standardized font for the brand name — a restriction opposed by tobacco firms, who unsuccessfully argued the law trampled their intellectual property rights.

Canadian health groups and anti-smoking advocates applauded the ruling, and pointed to the Australian decision as proof that stricter laws on package design here would withstand a Charter challenge.

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, said Australia's ban, now cleared to take effect Dec. 1, will boost "international momentum" in favour of plain-packaging rules currently being discussed in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Norway.

He said Ottawa should act quickly to outlaw the visual markers which he said make cigarette packages like "mini billboards" carrying messages of status and sophistication that encourage smoking.

"The brand and the logos are at the core of tobacco industry marketing. A cigarette is nothing without those intangible images," Cunningham said.

A spokeswoman for Health Canada said the department isn't currently planning regulations to block logos from cigarette packets.

"Health Canada continues to review available research on plain packaging as a form of tobacco control and closely monitors plain packaging proposals put forward in other countries, such as Australia," Olivia Caron said in an email.

The health department bolstered rules governing cigarette and small cigar packages this June to require 75 per cent of the surface space to display graphic health images and warning messages.

The move to enlarge images of mouth disease and other smoking-related risks triggered legal action from tobacco manufacturers, who allege the regulation violates their right to communicate with customers.

A senior official with Imperial Tobacco Canada, a subsidiary of one of four global tobacco firms that challenged the Australian law, said the legal basis of the ruling is specific to Australia alone.

"Today’s decision only concerns Australian constitutional law and in no way suggests a similar law would be constitutional in Canada," Caroline Ferland, vice-president of corporate and regulatory affairs, said in a statement Wednesday.

But Christopher Wilson, director of public affairs with the Canadian Lung Association, said the Australian court has given countries considering similar laws firm legal ground to stand on.

"It undermines the arguments of the tobacco companies that plain packaging would interfere with their intellectual property," he said.

Canada is a member of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which encourages signatories to pass plain-packaging laws.

The head of a doctors' group campaigning for more stringent smoking rules said Canada should live up to the convention and standardize all aspects of cigarette packaging.

Cynthia Callard of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada said Ottawa was once a world leader on anti-smoking measures but has lost momentum.

"They're not even on the bandwagon right now. They're traipsing behind on these issues," she said.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version erroneously said a motion calling for bigger images was voted down by Conservative MPs in Parliament.

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