Face off: Assessing WTO challenges to Australia's scheme for plain tobacco packaging
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Within the World Trade Organization ("WTO"), regulatory measures of Canada and the United States restricting "flavoring" of tobacco products including cigarettes with additives such as chocolate, clove and sweeteners are under challenge. At the same time, the tobacco lobby continues to target other tobacco control measures on the basis that they violate international trade or investment law, including Australia's plain packaging proposal, Uruguay's stricter labelling requirements, and Norway's display ban. The WTO-consistency of regulatory restrictions on tobacco flavoring provides an informative case study of the relationship between tobacco control and international economic law. The WTO's General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 and Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade grant WTO Members significant flexibility in implementing genuine health measures including these kinds of restrictions. Nevertheless, to ensure WTO-consistency, tobacco flavoring measures must be carefully designed to achieve their health objectives based on available scientific and empirical evidence, avoiding unnecessary discrimination against or between imported tobacco products and unjustified barriers to international trade. Exemptions for additives that cause direct or indirect harm by masking tobacco harshness, attracting certain groups of consumers such as young people, or increasing the toxicity or addictiveness of tobacco products, are likely to undermine a Member's health goals and in turn its claim of WTO-consistency.
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