Saudi Arabia, in a rather surprising development, filed a notification with the World Trade Organization (WTO) disclosing its plans to implement plain packaging rules for tobacco products. The notification was filed on September 12, 2018, with a time limit of 60 days during which the relevant bodies of the WTO were able to review the proposal and submit their comments. The notification was accompanied by a draft Regulation titled “Plain Packaging Standards of Tobacco Products,” which contained detailed packaging conditions for tobacco products, including cigarette packs.
If and when implemented, Saudi Arabia will become the first country to impose plain packaging rules for tobacco products in the Middle East. The proposal comes as a public health measure and follows similar laws which were passed in Australia (the first country to implement plain packaging), the European Union, and the United Kingdom. The WTO, as one of the proponents of plain packaging as a measure to discourage people from taking up tobacco use, is expected to be strongly in favor of the Saudi move.
For the cigarette packs, the draft Regulation prescribes the nature, display, colors, and placement of the health warning statements and graphics in a prominent manner. Distinctive smells, sound features, and touch and visual properties are prohibited. The draft Regulation allows the use of the manufacturer name and contact details in restricted gray color.
As for the use of the trademark, the draft Regulation for the cigarette packs contains detailed conditions. Most importantly the trademark must be:
- Limited to alphabetical letters and numerals;
- Displayed in one line, either in Arabic or English—if in English, the first letter of each word must be capitalized;
- No larger than a 14-point font size, Helvetica typeface; and
- Matte Pantone Cool Gray 2C.
Saudi Arabia did not specify the proposed date of adoption of the Regulation, but the notification filed with the WTO mentions that it would come into force six months after the publication of the Regulation in the Official Gazette in Saudi Arabia; however, the Regulation does not specify a timeframe by which tobacco companies and importers must comply with it once it comes in force. The notice of publication of the proposed Regulation is naturally expected to include such information and provide a sufficient time for tobacco companies and importers to sell off any existing branded stock and start offering for sale only cigarettes in plain packaging. Implementation of the Regulation will no doubt affect tobacco brand owners in Saudi Arabia.
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