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Argument: Right to Liberty (Principio de la Libertad)

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BAT - Surreptitious Advertising of Glo on Social Media [Italy] [September 30, 2021]

A consumer protection organization brought a complaint before the Italian Competition Authority alleging British American Tobacco Italia S.p.A. (BAT) and individual social media influencers violated the Consumer Code through Instagram posts promoting Glo Hyper, a heated tobacco product. The specific promotional practice at issue was a "call to action" where the influencers encouraged their followers to post content containing tags and hashtags related to Glo without asking them to also disclose the promotional nature of the posts. The influencers would then re-post the best user-generated content.

Ultimately, the regulatory authority declined to find an offense because both BAT and the influencers made certain commitments that the regulatory authority felt were sufficient to provide consumers with complete and accurate information going forward. These commitments by BAT included: (1) the adoption of Influencer Marketing Guidelines; (2) the addition of contractual provisions should BAT directly contract with influencers in the future; (3) the addition of contractual language if BAT contracts with influencers through an agency that would require the agency to monitor the influencers' activities and adherence to the Guidelines; (4) asking followers to include appropriate hashtags in any future calls to action; and (5) removal of the pages/posts that are subject to this dispute. The influencers agreed to: (1) remove the posts at issue; (2) use the appropriate hashtags in any future advertising and marketing activities; and (3) inform their followers that any user-generated content that doesn't contain the necessary tags or hashtags will not be considered in any contests.

Tabacalera Sarandí S.A. v. Argentine Tax Authority (AFIP) [Argentina] [May 13, 2021]

Tabacalera Sarandí S.A. had obtained a preliminary injunction to suspend the application of the minimum amount of a tax established for the commercialization of tobacco. Thus, the company could apply the tax rate (70%) on the retail price without considering the minimum amount. The company argued that this minimum put it at a disadvantage with other multi-national tobacco companies. The Argentine Tax Authority appealed the decision, saying that the ruling affected the public interest and the extra-fiscal purpose of the tax, which is the protection of public health. The Supreme Court ruled that the tobacco company had not sufficiently demonstrated its injury and did not prove the requirements to be granted with the injunction. Thus, the Court revoked the injunction.

BAT Uganda Ltd. v. Attorney General and the Minister of Health [Uganda] [February 01, 2021]

British American Tobacco Uganda (BATU) challenged Uganda's Tobacco Control Regulations, 2019. BATU's court submissions raised a number of substantive and procedural claims, including the insufficient time to implement warnings, size of warnings, ban on some misleading descriptors, and flavoring ban. BATU sought and was granted a temporary injunction suspending implementation of Regulations 3, 4, 5, and 6. However, BAT subsequently withdrew its complaint and the injunction was lifted. 

Baldassare v. British American Tobacco Argentina [Argentina] [December 28, 2020]

The plaintiff brought an action against British American Tobacco (BAT) Argentina, seeking damages for all the health problems allegedly resulting from his use of tobacco products. In particular, he sought compensation for a heart attack he suffered. He claimed that when he began smoking, the advertisements were misleading and did not warn him about the possible health problems caused by the substances in cigarettes. The judge determined that: (i) the case was not time-barred, (ii) tobacco consumption was probably one of the reasons for the heart attack, and (iii) the victim did not assume the risks of smoking because he was not sufficiently well informed, as required by the country's consumer protection law, and because he was not free to direct his actions due to the addiction. The lower court determined that BAT had to pay compensatory damages and also a fine as punitive damages.

Public Ministry of Rio de Janeiro v. Rock World SA, Souza Cruz Ltda, and Vega Fina Tabacaria Eireli [Brazil] [November 02, 2020]

The Public Ministry in Rio de Janeiro presented a civil action against Rock World SA, Souza Cruz Ltda, and Vega Fina Tabacaria Eireli for illegal advertising in the festival "Rock in Rio" 2017. On November 2, 2020, the court concluded that the defendants engaged in unlawful advertising during the festival. The illegal advertising included (i) visually ostentatious advertising of smoking products and (ii) "mobile sellers.” On the other hand, the sale of a kit that included cigarettes and a lighter with the logo of "Rock in Rio" was not recognized as an illegal practice. The defendants were sanctioned as follows – (1) Defendants were fined R$ 2,000,000.00 for collective moral damages. For individual material and moral damages, each consumer will need to prove individually the actual damage suffered. (2) Defendants must carry out counter-advertising in partnership with public universities and hospitals informing consumers about the risks, prevention, and treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and smoking cessation.

In addition to bringing this enforcement action against the illegal advertising that took place at the Rock in Rio 2017, the Public Ministry sought an interim judgment barring illegal promotional activities at the then upcoming Rock in Rio 2019 festival. In response to this request, the court issued a series of orders restricting the promotional activities at the 2019 festival.

Confederação Nacional do Turismo et. Confederacao Nacional do Comercio de Bens, Servicos e Turismo v. Paraná [Brazil] [August 24, 2020]

The National Confederation of Tourism, together with the National Confederation of Commerce of Goods, Services, and Tourism, filed a lawsuit against the Paraná (state-level) tobacco control law, which prohibits smoking in public or private collective environments in the state of Paraná. The Court unanimously held that state legislative assembly did not exceed its competence to legislate public health. The Court concluded that the state law did not offend fundamental freedoms since it did not prohibit the exercise of the individual's right to consume tobacco products. Furthermore, the Court affirmed that the restriction of using tobacco products in collective enclosed environments respected the rights of non-smokers and the adequate protection of health.

Confederacao Nacional do Comercio de Bens, Servicos e Turismo v. Paraná [Brazil] [August 24, 2020]

The National Confederation of Commerce of Goods, Services, and Tourism filed a lawsuit against the Paraná (state-level) tobacco control law, which prohibits smoking in public or private collective environments in the state of Paraná. The Court unanimously held that the state legislative assembly did not exceed its competence to legislate public health. The Court also concluded that the state law did not offend fundamental freedoms since it did not prohibit the exercise of the individual's right to consume tobacco products. Furthermore, the Court affirmed that the restriction of using tobacco products in collective enclosed environments respected the rights of non-smokers and the adequate protection of health.

Cubacigar Benelux NV v. State of the Netherlands (Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport) [Netherlands] [June 30, 2020]

Cubacigar Benelux NV (Cubacigar) appealed a lower court decision upholding packaging restrictions contained in the Tobacco and Smoking Regulations. Specifically, Cubacigar had challenged restrictions limiting the use of metallic foils and embossing (“glitter and glamor” elements) on cigar boxes. The lower court held that these restrictions in the Tobacco and Smoking Regulations did not conflict with the EU Tobacco Products Directive. The court also determined that although the packaging requirements restricted the free movement of goods, the requirements were justified from a public health point of view because they are aimed at reducing the attractiveness of tobacco products. Further, the requirements of the principle of proportionality were also met.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal upheld the lower court's decision that the packaging requirements under the Tobacco and Smoking Regulations are in line with the EU Tobacco Products Directive. The Court concluded that the government presented sufficient evidence demonstrating that the measures are justified on grounds of public health protection and are proportionate.

Australia - Tobacco Plain Packaging Final Ruling [Australia] [June 09, 2020]

The Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued its final ruling affirming that Australia’s pioneering law requiring plain packaging for tobacco products and finding it entirely consistent with WTO agreements. In particular, the WTO appeal ruling confirmed the original finding that the evidence shows that tobacco plain packaging laws "are apt to, and do in fact, contribute to Australia's objective of reducing the use of, and exposure to, tobacco products."

The appeal ruling also confirmed that:

  • Tobacco plain packaging is not more trade-restrictive than is necessary to meet its legitimate public health objective.
  • Trademark owners do not have a positive right to use their trademarks under WTO TRIPS agreement, but only the right to prevent third parties from using them.
  • Tobacco plain packaging is a justified restriction on the use of trademarks and does not violate trademark protections.

Korea Electronic Cigarette Association v. Ministry of Health and Welfare [Republic of Korea] [March 17, 2020]

The Korea Electronic Cigarette Association challenged the constitutionality of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s guidance urging the public to stop using e-cigarettes at least until a safety management system could be put into place and research into human toxicity was completed. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, holding that the guidance did not infringe on e-cigarette companies' constitutional rights. The ministerial guidance did not amount to an "exercise of government power" because it had no direct legal effect on the rights and duties of the people and is, therefore, not subject to adjudication on a constitutional complaint.