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Japan Tobacco Said It Sued Thailand Over Health Warnings

Japan Tobacco Inc., Asia’s biggest listed cigarette maker, sued the government of Thailand over a plan to increase the size of health warnings on cigarette packages, claiming the move is unconstitutional.

Thailand announced a plan in April to increase the size of graphic health warnings to 85 percent of the cigarette package cover from the current 55 percent.

Japan Tobacco filed a lawsuit in an Administrative Court on June 19 to block the plan, spokesman Hisashi Sekiguchi said in a phone interview yesterday. The proposal violates Thailand’s constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of expression, it said. The Bangkok-based court confirmed the Thai unit of the Tokyo-based company has filed a lawsuit against Pradit Sintavanarong, the country’s health minister and two other officials.

Tobacco companies are engaged in a global effort fighting government moves to curtail cigarette advertising and curb smoking through graphic health warnings and elimination of branding. Australia has prohibited any tobacco company markings on cigarette packages, with New Zealand planning to do the same.

“This announcement is strictly in line with the law,” Pradit told reporters in Bangkok today. “We will wait for the court decision without any interference.” He defended the government’s decision to change the regulation without consulting tobacco producers or retailers, citing World Health Organization guidelines that preclude tobacco companies from taking part in the process.

Philip Morris International Inc.’s Thailand unit said it would file its own suit before July 4.

“The Ministry ignored our voice and the voices of thousands of retailers in enacting this rule,” Onanong Pratakphiriya, a spokeswoman for the company’s Thailand unit, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

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