The latest attempt by tobacco companies to prevent the introduction of mandatory plain packaging of cigarettes in the UK has been rejected by the court of appeal.
The judgment is a fresh blow to companies who face having to replace their current heavily branded distinctive packs with boxes that are indistinguishable from each other bar the brand name on the packet in standard typeface, colour and size.
The regulations aim to reduce the appeal and uptake of smoking, by children and young people in particular, help smokers to quit, prevent misleading packaging, and give greater prominence to health warnings.
But British American, Imperial, Japan International and Philip Morris claim that the move would infringe their human and intellectual property rights.
In May, the high court rejected their arguments, the day before the tobacco products directive of the EU took effect. Some of the companies took the case to the court of appeal last month but, on Wednesday, the three judges, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, dismissed the challenge.
Lord Justice Lewison, Lord Justice Beatson and Sir Stephen Richards ruled that the health secretary had “lawfully exercised his powers”.
The companies now have the option of appealing to the supreme court.
Nicola Blackwood, the public health and innovation minister, said: “Standardised packaging will help cut smoking rates and reduce suffering, disease and loss of life. We are pleased that this decision will help many people to lead longer and healthier lives.”
Since May, legal challenge notwithstanding, companies have been forbidden from making packets that do not comply with the directive. However, they are allowed to sell off existing cigarette stocks until May next year, which means plain packets will only emerge in the shops gradually.
The new packs will be the same shape, size and colour (green) and 65% of the front and back surfaces will be covered by picture health warnings, with written warnings on the sides.
Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of the health charity Ash, said: “This is a victory for public health and another crushing defeat for the tobacco industry. This ruling should also encourage other countries to press ahead with standardised packaging, now that the industry’s arguments have yet again been shown to be without foundation.”
Simon Clark, the director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “By stigmatising the product, the government is also targeting the user. Plain packs are unlikely to deter people from smoking but the impact on consumer choice could be significant because some brands will almost certainly disappear from the market.
“Tobacco is a legal product. The law should not impose excessive regulations on consumers who know the health risks and don’t need this type of finger-wagging measure.”