Cuba accuses UK of being anti-capitalist over plain packaging plans
Communist state Cuba has complained that Britain is threatening free trade with plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes and cigars
Keith Perry and John Bingham, The Telegraph
Cuba has accused Britain of being anti-capitalist and threatening free trade with its plans introduce plain packaging on cigarettes and cigars.
The Communist country has complained to the World Trade Organisation over the UK Government plans to ban branding on smoking products to try and encourage people to give up the addictive habit.
This came as Tory MP Priti Patel wrote in the Asian Trader arguing that uncertainty surrounding the regulations and timescale is “causing considerable anxiety to newsagents and independent retailers”.
Cuba said it recognized Britain’s “sovereign right to apply measures aimed at protecting the health of its people while recognising that tobacco is a “harmful but lawful product in international trade”.
But it said plain packaging would lead to an increase in counterfeit cigarettes by preventing manufacturers displaying their products’ distinctive trademarks and would also increase health risks to people smoking black market cigarettes containing unknown substances.
Cuba also said it would impose unnecessary restrictions on international trade and undermined the provisions of international trademark legislation.
Cuba’s letter to the WTO’s Committee to Technical Barriers on Trade concluded: “Cuba expresses great concern over the UK Parliament's decision to move ahead with the process of implementation of plain packaging of tobacco products, without waiting for a settlement of the complaint against Australia before the WTO Dispute Settlement Body.
“We therefore respectfully ask that the British Government refrain from adopting such packaging until there has been a definitive ruling in the dispute currently before the DSB, so that this measure may be assessed on the basis of those findings.”
Cuba, Ukraine, Indonesia, Honduras and Dominican Republic have all brought legal action against Australia, the first country to ban colourful logos on cigarette packaging.
Since late 2012, tobacco products in Australia can only be sold in drab olive-coloured packets that look more like military or prison issue, with brands printed in small standardised fonts.
The five countries challenging it say the legislation is a barrier to trade and restricts intellectual property.
In a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Ms Patel wrote: “Small shops are at the forefront of efforts to reduce underage tobacco sales and do a tremendous job challenging prospective purchasers to provide proof of age.
“However, measures like standardised packaging which will lead to an increase in the availability of tobacco from illicit sources, would only serve to make it easier for children to purchase tobacco products.
She added: “The blunt tool of standardised packaging will have a significant and disproportionate impact on independent retailers, whereas other measures to control and reduce use, such as through education, would make a more positive contribution towards the Government’s strategic objective to reduce tobacco use.”
She claimed Sir Cyril Chantler’s inquiry into tobacco plain packaging had ignored the views of small traders.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH, refuted the claims that plain packaging would increase illicit trade or make it easier for underage people to smoke.
“Despite assertions by the tobacco industry and its allies, there is no evidence to support the argument that standardised packaging would increase illicit trade or make it easier for young people to access tobacco," she said.
“The impact of standardised packaging on sales is likely to be gradual and there is no reason why independent retailers should be particularly affected.”
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