BAT challenges plain pack cigarette laws

British American Tobacco has become the second tobacco giant to launch legal action against Australian laws forcing tobacco products to be sold in plain packaging from next year, following the lead of Philip Morris.

The laws, cleared by parliament, are being watched closely by governments considering similar moves in Europe, Canada and New Zealand. They have angered tobacco firms who fear they may set a global precedent and infringe on trademark rights.

BAT, lodging papers with Australia's High Court in Sydney, said the tough world-first laws should be struck down because the government was infringing on the company's intellectual property and branding without proper compensation.

"If the same type of legislation was introduced for a beer brewing company or a fast food chain, then they'd be taking the government to court and we're no different," the company's Australian spokesman Scott McIntyre said.

McIntyre said the BAT proceedings in the High Court, Australia's supreme judicial body, would be a test case on the validity of the plain pack laws to two leading brands in Australia - Winfield and Dunhill cigarettes.

A hearing is likely next year.

"If we're successful, the decision should apply to other property and brands sold by BAT," he said.

Under the law, cigarettes, pipe tobacco and cigars have to be sold in olive green packs free from branding, but carrying graphic health warnings, from December 2012.