Leading cigarette maker to challenge arrival of neutral packaging in Belgium

Leading cigarette maker to challenge arrival of neutral packaging in Belgium
Branded cigarette packages will be pulled from stores as of January 2020. Credit: © Belga

A major tobacco multinational is poised to challenge the arrival of the neutral cigarette package in Belgium, claiming it will have no impact on public health in the country.

British American Tobacco (BAT) said it will file a motion against the measure with the Council of State, Belgium's highest administrative court, according to De Morgen.

Announced in May, the new measure will come into effect on January 2020 and will see branding disappear in favour of a brown-green packaging, and retailers will be able to sell only remaining branded stocks.

The BAT said that the introduction of neutral packaging was a "symbolic measure," which, alone, had little impact on consumption and could lead to complications within the industry.

"Tobacco consumption does not decrease as a result of neutral packaging, but because of price and excise tax increases," company spokesman Filip Buntinx said in an interview with L'Echo, citing the cases of countries like France and England.

"Traders will take longer to find the right package and [the measure] could lead to errors in stock management," he added.

Adopted into French law in 2016, the neutral package was introduced together with a price hike for tobacco products, which saw the number of smokers drop by 1 million, De Morgen reports.

Suzanne Gabriëls of the Belgian Foundation against Cancer told the outlet that plain packaging will have little impact on the habits of regular smokers, but said that a central reason to introduce the measure was to discourage young people from picking up the habit.

"The full effect of neutral packaging will only become clear in the long term," she said, adding that with "all the glamour" stripped from the packs, next generations would no longer be targetted by marketing strategies.

Citing the case of France, Gabriëls said that a more radical effect might be seen in Belgium if authorities made neutral packaging coincide with a price hike as well.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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