British American Tobacco prepared to take UK government to court over proposals to enforce plain packaging for cigarettes, depending on final regulations, says legal director; company seeks to protect its rights to compete, consumers' rights to choose

LONDON , February 28, 2014 () –

BRITISH American Tobacco could take the UK Government to court over proposals to enforce plain packaging on cigarette packets.

The world's second–biggest tobacco company said it was prepared to challenge legally any restrictions in a bid to protect its rights to compete and the consumer's rights to choose.

"It's something that we would consider depending on what the regulations would be, of course," said Neil Withington, legal director at British American Tobacco (BAT).

"There's a point at which you have to consider the line that is drawn in the sand to protect your rights and the consumer's rights to choose and our ability to compete. So we're well prepared."

The legal threat was made as BAT posted its 2013 results, which showed an increase in profits and dividends.

In November, the Government commissioned an independent review into introducing plain packaging laws for cigarette packets, a year after Australia forced it on manufacturers.

Health campaigners strongly support plain packaging, but BAT claims Australia's policy is a failure and argues it increases illicit trade and could lead to a rise in smoking among young people.

"Plain packaging increases illicit trade, illicit trade sells for lower prices than legitimate cigarettes and it sells in channels were there's no control. So it's perfectly possible that increasing plain packaging would increase youth smoking", said Ben Stevens, finance director of the company.

BAT faced further regulation from the EU on Wednesday, when the European Parliament approved a Tobacco Products Directive that will ban menthol and selling packets with fewer than 20 cigarettes, and will increase the size of health warnings to 65pc of packaging.

Nicandro Durante, chief executive of BAT, said he was not concerned by the regulation – much of which is already implemented elsewhere in the world – but did not believe that banning menthol was appropriate.

"There is no scientific evidence that banning menthol is going to bring any real public health benefit to the population," he said..

BAT's pre–tax profit increased 0.04pc to £5.8bn in 2013 on revenues of £15.26bn. RRRRRRRRRRRRRREarnings per share in 2013 came in at 216.6p, compared with 205.2p the previous year. The dividend for the year was increased by 6pc to 142.4p a share. Its share price rose 1.43pc to £32.19½.

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