Saudi Arabia has told the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it plans to implement plain packaging measures for tobacco products as part of public health measures despite opposition from major tobacco companies.
Even though Saudi Arabia did not specify when it will introduce the new rules, when they are implemented, Saudi Arabia will become the first country in the region to take such measures.
When the rules are implemented, Saudi Arabia will join Hungary, Ireland, France, New Zealand, Norway and Britain which have already implemented plain packaging laws.
Australia is the first country that has introduced plain packaging rules for tobacco products.
Seven countries, Burkina Faso, Canada, Georgia, Romania, Slovenia, Thailand and Uruguay – have passed plain packaging laws and these are yet to be implemented.
Saudi Arabia, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), has taken the decision following a WTO ruling in June, favoring the Australian packaging laws.
When Australia introduced the plain packaging laws, Cuba, Indonesia, Honduras and Dominican Republic had tried to block the Australian laws at the WTO. They argued that the ban on colorful logos and its standardized ‘drab’ olive packets amounted to a breach of intellectual property rules and restricted trade.
However, WTO adjudicators backed Australia, which termed the ruling a ‘resounding victory’ for its 2010 laws. The WTO said that the laws are contributing to the improvement of public health.
While Honduras and Dominican Republic are appealing against the WTO ruling, Indonesia and Cuba are said to have accepted it.
The WTO said that its ruling is expected to create a ‘domino effect’ as more countries start implementing tobacco laws similar to those in Australia.
Meanwhile, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Paul Garwood said: “There’s no other Gulf country that has implemented plain packaging, and we’re not aware of any other Gulf country looking to implement at the moment.”
In response to the WTO ruling, WHO said that it will encourage more countries to enforce stringent packaging laws in order to curb tobacco consumption.