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Argument: Right to Health

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Dutch Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation, Van Veen, Breed v. PMI, BAT, JTI, IT [Netherlands] [December 06, 2018]

Anne Marie van Veen and Lia Breed, two patients who suffer from lung cancer and respiratory disease, and the Dutch Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation filed a complaint in 2016 with the Dutch public prosecutor’s office against tobacco makers Philip Morris International Inc., British American Tobacco Plc, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco Beneluin. The complaint alleged that the tobacco manufacturers are, in short, guilty of attempted manslaughter and/or murder, attempted severe and premeditated assault and/or attempted premeditated harm to health with intent.  It also alleged that tobacco companies used deliberately misleading laboratory tests to gauge levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide. The complaint described that the tobacco companies were liable because of “the large-scale, decades-long and ongoing production and sale of addictive tobacco products in the Netherlands.” The Dutch public prosecutor’s office declined to pursue a case against tobacco makers finding that "[a] successful prosecution of the tobacco manufacturers -- one resulting in a conviction -- is not possible within the current regulations and parameters."

The Appellate Court upheld the Dutch public prosecutor's decision. The Appellate Court found that "the cigarettes of the tobacco producers are made and tested according to stringent Dutch and European laws and regulations. As long as the tobacco producers comply with these European and national rules, the Member States (and therefore also the Netherlands) must not prohibit the trade in cigarettes according to the same European rules. The (European) regulator can only decide overriding measures against tobacco producers."

J. Anbazhagan v. Union of India [India] [April 26, 2018]

J. Anbazhagan, a member of the legislative assembly in the State of Tamil Nadu, filed a writ petition to highlight the illegal manufacture and sale of gutka and pan masala in the state and to urge the High Court of Madras to order an independent investigation into the matter. Mr. Anbazhagan alleged such sales were carried out in collusion with several high dignitaries and bureaucrats, such as central excise officials, central government officials, officials from different state governments, including the Government of Tamil Nadu, councilors of the Chennai Corporation, and officials of the food safety department, among others. The Court observed that it was compelled to take up the case as the issues involved the right to health and directed that the Central Bureau of Investigation investigate the matter, since, among other reasons, central government officials allegedly were involved.  In response to arguments made by the respondents, the Court also clarified that the definition of “food” under Section 3(j) of the Food Safety Act includes any substance, whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, which is intended for human consumption and that the definition undoubtedly was wide enough to include gutka, and other forms of chewable tobacco/nicotine products intended for human consumption. The Court further clarified that India’s omnibus tobacco control law, COTPA, and the Food Safety Act were not in conflict, but were meant to be read in conjunction with each other as COTPA does not contain a non-obstante clause that excludes operation of other laws.

New Zealand MOH v. PMI [New Zealand] [March 12, 2018]

The Ministry of Health ("MOH") charged Phillip Morris Ltd. with selling tobacco product called “Heets,” a heated tobacco product, in violation of Sec. 29(2) of the Smoke-free Environment Act 1990 (‘the Act’). The Act prohibits the sale of tobacco "labelled, or otherwise described as suitable for chewing, or for any other oral use (other than smoking)." The Court held that the Act was originally intended to control the sales of chewing tobacco and other tobacco products consumed orally, and therefore "Heets" did not fall within Sec. 29(2).

National Confederation of Industry (Confederação Nacional da Indústria) v. ANVISA [Brazil] [February 01, 2018]

In 2012, Brazil banned tobacco additives and flavors. The National Confederation of Industry (Confederação Nacional da Indústria) challenged the ban. The Supreme Federal Tribunal, Brazil’s highest court, upheld the 2012 regulation and affirmed the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency’s (ANVISA) right to regulate tobacco products. The court held that freedom of enterprise does not prevent Brazil from imposing conditions and limitations on private activities. The court found that while businesses have rights, they must be compatible with other fundamental and constitutional rights. In the case of tobacco control, these fundamental and constitutional rights include the right to health and the right to information. The court further held that the risks associated with tobacco consumption justify the tobacco market being subjected to intense health regulations.

Because the court failed to reach a majority (5-5 tie), the decision is not binding on other tribunals, and, by not reaching a majority, the court rejected the constitutionality claim against the ANVISA regulation (“Resolução da Diretoria Colegiada da ANVISA 14/2012”). Although the decision is not binding because of a lack of quorum, it is unlikely that subsequent challenges to the regulation would be decided differently.  (Note that the decision is in Portuguese with five pages translated into English. The English translation is located in "Related Documents.")

Karnataka Beedi Industry Association v. Union of India [India] [December 15, 2017]

Using the powers conferred by India’s omnibus tobacco control law, the government introduced new graphic health warnings in October 2014 that, among other things, increased the graphic health warning size from 40 percent of one side to 85 percent of both sides of tobacco product packaging and amended the rotation scheme of the warnings.  The Karnataka Beedi Industry Association, the Tobacco Institute of India, and other pro-tobacco entities challenged the validity of the 2014 pack warning rules in five cases in the Karnataka High Court – Bengaluru, and the court initially stayed the implementation of the warnings via interim orders.  Following a petition by tobacco control advocates, the court lifted the stays, and a division bench of the court affirmed the decision on appeal.  The association and others challenged this ruling in the Supreme Court.  Paving the way for immediate implementation of the warnings, the Supreme Court, on May 4, 2016, directed that the matter be decided within six weeks in the Karnataka High Court by a bench constituted by the Karnataka Chief Justice and that any stays of the warnings in other high courts not be given effect until the conclusion of the matter.  The Supreme Court identified pending pack warning challenges in courts throughout India (more than 27 in number) and transferred these cases to Karnataka. After months of hearings, a two judge bench of the Karnataka High Court struck down the 2014 rules. One judge found the rules illegal, holding that the Ministry of Health did not possess authority to act unilaterally. Both judges found the rules to be arbitrary and unreasonable.

Esperanza Cerón Villaquirán et al v. Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio (SIC) [Colombia] [November 17, 2017]

Tobacco control advocates challenged the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio – SIC) resolutions that regulated point of sale tobacco product displays.  Tobacco control advocates alleged that these resolutions violated the complete ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship established through Law No. 1335. The Colombian State Council held that these resolutions violated Article 13 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and its guidelines that state that product display should be considered a form of advertisement. Consequently, the State Council mandated the SIC to repeal the resolutions, which was done through Resolution No. 1/2018.

Japan Tobacco International and Others v. Ministry of Health (plain packaging laws) [France] [December 23, 2016]

Legal challenges to the plain packaging of tobacco products laws dismissed. 

On December 23, 2016 the Conseil d’Etat (the Council of State, the highest administrative jurisdiction in France) dismissed six legal challenges that were brought against the tobacco products plain packaging laws. Previously, in January 2016, the Constitutional Council had also upheld the law as in accordance with the constitution, on a referral from members of parliament.

In brief, six cases were brought challenging the regulations - four by the tobacco companies, one from the confederation of tobacco retailers, and one from a tobacco paper manufacturer. The Conseil d'Etat dismissed all the claims and held that:

1. The ban on using figurative, semi-figurative signs, and logos on packaging of tobacco products was valid because the brand and variant name is still permitted allowing the identification of the product.
2. Plain packaging constitutes an infringement of property rights, but that this infringement is justified in the light of the objective pursued (public health) and because the measure regulates the use of trademarks but does not completely ban them.
3. There was no 'deprivation' of property rights.
4. For the same reasons, the Conseil d'État held that the national legislation is a quantitative restriction on the importation of goods but this is in conformity with European Union law because the introduction of such restrictions is permitted where they are justified by a public health objective and the protection of human life. The court held that in this case, the challenged provisions must be considered as unable to do anything other than, over time, reduce the consumption of tobacco. The evidence in the case file also showed that neutral packaging would reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products. The measures were therefore proportionate and justified.

A summary of the decisions from the two separate courts is attached in French and English in the section on "Related Documents". 

British American Tobacco Panama v. Panama [Panama] [August 03, 2016]

Decree 611 establishes that Panama's ban on the advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products includes a ban on tobacco product display at the point of sale. BAT Panama SA and other tobacco companies filed suit requesting an order declaring Decree 611 illegal, arguing that it violated the right to property including intellectual property and consumers’ right to access information. The Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court of Panama upheld the decree finding that there was no violation of trademark rights as trademark registration and use still were allowed.  The court also found that consumers’ right to access information was assured through the use of the textual listing of products and their prices and through health warnings on packages. Notably, the court used FCTC guidelines to interpret FCTC obligations with regard to tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship.

Pranvesh v. Union of India [India] [June 30, 2016]

A University of Allahabad student filed a writ petition alleging the unabated sale of tobacco to minors and adults in the city of Allahabad. The High Court of Allahabad found that temporary and permanent shops located near schools and other public institutions were making such sales. The Court also found that certain tobacco manufacturers presented misleading information about their products in print and visual media and failed to comply with the requirement for pictorial warnings on tobacco products.  The Court passed the following directions: (1) that all temporary/permanent establishments selling tobacco within a 100 yard radius of educational institutions be removed; (2) that all temporary/permanent establishments selling tobacco within 500 meter radius of the High Court and the District Court be removed; (3) that the sale of tobacco to persons seated in parked cars on roads and road sides be stopped; and (4) that strict action be taken against tobacco manufacturers who violate the requirement for compulsory statutory warnings on their products.

Nobleza Piccardo v. Provincia de Santa Fe [Argentina] [October 27, 2015]

Nobleza Piccardo, a BAT affiliate, challenged the constitutionality of a sub-national law that established a complete ban on tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship in the Province of Santa Fe. The tobacco company argued that this measure violated freedom of expression and commercial freedoms and that sub-national governments were not entitled to legislate in these matters. The Argentine Supreme Court ruled in favor of the sub-national tobacco control law, finding that this ban was a reasonable restriction of commercial freedoms. Considering the impact of tobacco use, the Court connected these measures to be obligations derived from the right to life and the right to health. With regards to freedom of expression, the Court found that commercial speech is not entitled the same level of protection as political or social speeches. The Court also understands that health is an area of concurrent power and thus shared by both the federal and the sub-national governments. Notably, even though Argentina has not ratified the FCTC, the Court uses it as an international standard for tobacco control policies.