Australia says no plan for total smoking ban

Australia said on Thursday it has no plans to ban smoking after a key court ruling allowing cigarettes to be sold in plain packets, describing the health battle against tobacco as "one step at a time."

Tobacco products will have to be sold in drab, uniform packaging with graphic health warnings in Australia from December 1 after global cigarette firms lost a constitutional challenge against the world-first plan.

The World Health Organization welcomed the High Court of Australia ruling in favour of the plain packets law and expressed hope for a "domino effect" for countries mulling similar moves, including Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

Smoking is banned in restaurants, bars and most other indoor spaces across Australia, with New South Wales state this week passing tough laws extending it to playgrounds, sports grounds, swimming pools and train and bus stations.

There were calls for Canberra to implement a full ban on cigarettes following its High Court victory, but Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the issue had to be tackled gradually.

"This has been a very big battle for the government and I'm delighted that the High Court's upheld the decision and we're going to get on with introducing that, that's what our government's doing," Roxon told commercial television.

"We don't have plans to ban tobacco."

Roxon said she had children writing to her "all the time" when she was health minister asking her to ban cigarettes and she told them "that might be something that your generation has to take up".

"Tobacco control has always been a step at a time, and the very big step that we've taken this week is the High Court giving a tick to the government's plain packaging measures," she said.

Australia is still facing action at the World Trade Organization over the plan from Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, as well as an investment treaty lawsuit filed by Philip Morris Asia in Hong Kong.

Legal experts warned that the Hong Kong case was "particularly concerning" because Australia's bilateral investment treaty with the Chinese territory did not have special clauses for public health measures as seen in WTO agreements.

"The government has very strong arguments on its side but outcomes in investment arbitration are notoriously hard to predict," said regulatory expert Kyla Tienhaara from the Australian National University.

"Foreign investors are currently provided greater rights under international investment treaties than domestic firms are accorded under Australian law."

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