The WTO Plain Packaging Reports: Some Reflections

By Pedro Villarreal, Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law,, and Brigit Toebes, University of Groningen,

In June 2018, the WTO – Tobacco Plain Packaging panel reports were published. The four reports contain the findings of the WTO panels in the disputes launched in 2012­–2013 by Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Indonesia, against the introduction of plain tobacco packaging in Australia. This blog post provides some overall reflections on the outcomes of this case. The starting point for these reflections is a side event organised by the Global Health Law Committee of the International Law Association (ILA) on Tuesday 21 August 2018, during the ILA’s biannual conference in Sydney.

plain packaging

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Expanding smoking bans in public spaces in light of international law


By Marie Elske Gispen, University of Groningen,

Recently, three institutions in Rotterdam jointly wrote a letter to the city’s mayor to ask the municipality to adopt a smoking ban for the streets that connect their premises via municipal regulation.[1] The parties – the city’s main university hospital, university of applied sciences, and one of the city’s secondary schools – are all located next to or near to each other. In order to protect their students, staff, patients, and visitors, they want to create a smoke-free zone in and immediately around their premises.[2] While the institutions can adopt smoke-free policies on their own premises, they prefer a fully smoke-free zone because they do not want to send smokers who violate their internal smoking policies to neighbouring institutions who likewise try to enforce their own smoking ban.[3]

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Tabaksbeleggingen van het ABP op gespannen voet met het internationale standaarden

By Professor Brigit Toebes, Academic Director, Global Health Law Groningen Research Centre

Summary in English: The Dutch civil servants pension fund ABP continues to invest in the tobacco industry. This contribution looks at these investments from the perspective of international law, in particular the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and human rights law.

Nederlandse samenvatting: Het ABP heeft wereldwijd meer dan een miljard euro aan beleggingen uitstaan in de tabaksindustrie. Recentelijk is veel kritiek geuit op deze investeringen. Zo vindt de Stichting Rookpreventie Jeugd de investeringen niet ´moreel aanvaardbaar´. Ook binnen het ABP lijkt er geleidelijk meer erkenning te komen voor deze problematiek. In deze bijdrage kijk ik naar deze investeringen door de lens van het internationale recht.

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The Hague Court Ruling of 14-09-2016: ‘Article 8(2) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control does not imply a ‘Total Smoking Ban’’

By Gohar Karapetian, University of Groningen,

On 14 September 2016, the Court in The Hague ruled that the possibility to smoke in designated smoking areas in publicly accessible places is in line with Article 8(2) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (hereafter: FCTC). This provision states that State Parties to the FCTC shall adopt, as determined by national law, and actively promote ‘measures, providing for protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, public transport, indoor public places and, as appropriate, other public places’. According to the Court, Article 8(2) of the FCTC lacks ‘direct effect’ in the Dutch legal order in the sense of Article 94 of the Dutch Constitution. This, contrary to the ruling of the Dutch Supreme Court (Hoge Raad) on 14 October 2014, where Article 8(2) FCTC was declared to have ‘direct effect’.

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Plain tobacco packaging: where is the Netherlands?

By Brigit Toebes, University of Groningen, b.c.a.toebes(at)

As inspired by Australia, several countries in Europe have adopted or are in the process of adopting plain packaging for tobacco products. While plain packaging has been introduced in the UK, France and Ireland, Norway is in the process of adopting it.  Several other European countries, including Hungary, Finland, Slovenia, Belgium and Sweden are considering it.

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Extension of Smoke-Free Laws to Restaurants and Bars Leads to Less Babies Being Born with Low Birth Weight, Dutch Study Suggests

By Brigit Toebes, University of Groningen, b.c.a.toebes(at)

An investigation into the effects of tobacco control laws by a group of medical researchers sends an important message to law and policy makers. The study reveals that tighter tobacco control laws and policies, especially those introducing an extension of the smoke-free law to the hospitality industry, in combination with a tax increase and a public campaign, leads to less babies being born with low birth weight. Continue reading

Court decision in the case concerning the close ties between the Dutch Government and the tobacco industry (November 9th, 2015): no violation of Article 5(3) FCTC

Brigit Toebes, University of Groningen,

Summary in Dutch: in september 2014 dagvaardde de Stichting Rookpreventie Jeugd de Staat in een zaak betreffende de nauwe banden tussen de overheid en de tabaksindustrie. De zaak is voornamelijk gebaseerd op Artikel 5 lid 3 van het WHO-Kaderverdrag inzake tabaksontmoediging van de Wereldgezondheidsorganisatie. Op 9 november deed de Rechtbank Den Haag uitspraak in deze zaak. De rechter oordeelde dat Artikel 5 lid 3 WHO-Kaderverdrag geen rechtstreekse werking heeft. Geciteerd uit de samenvatting van de uitspraak: ‘De stichting Rookpreventie Jeugd kan deze bepaling dus niet inroepen om de Staat de verplichten meer maatregelen te nemen om de invloed van de tabaksindustrie tegen te gaan. Artikel 5 lid 3 kan ook niet als een substantiering worden gezien van het in mensenrechtenverdragen verankerde recht op leven en gezondheid. Evenmin kan het via de zorgvuldigheidsnorm van artikel 6:162 BW worden ingeroepen.’ Voor een bespreking vooraf van deze zaak zie de bijdrage van Brigit Toebes in Nederlands Juristenblad, Afl 37, 30 oktober 2015.

English – on November 9th, 2015 the Court of First Instance in The Hague took a decision in the case concerning the close ties between the Dutch Government and the tobacco industry. The Court ruled that Article 5(3) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires States Parties to protect their tobacco control and public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry, does not have direct effect.

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