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This country just introduced plain packaging for cigarettes

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Francoise Gebel | EyeEm | Getty Images

The U.K. became the second country in the world after Australia to introduce plain, standardized packaging for cigarettes on Friday, after a High Court ruling rejected a legal challenge from major tobacco firms.

On Thursday, the judge rejected the case from the claimants - British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, Philip Morris International and Imperial Brands – who accused the regulations of being disproportionate.

The judge noted in his ruling that there was a "significant moral angle which is embedded in the regulations which is about saving children from a lifetime of addiction, and children and adults from premature death and related suffering and disease."

What's changing?

As of Friday, all cigarette packs sold in the U.K. will have to come in standardized packaging, although there is a "sell-through period" of twelve months to enable retailers to get rid of existing stock produced, imported and branded before Friday.

The U.K.'s Department of Health indicates that packs will have to be cuboid in shape, and their colour a "non-shiny drab dark brown." Brand names will be allowed, but will have to be in a "set position, font and maximum size."

Health warnings will be in both pictures and text, and each pack will have to have a minimum of 20 cigarettes in it. Trademarks, logos, promotional images and color schemes will be banned.

A huge 'victory'

Jane Ellison, a government minister for public health, said that the High Court's decision was a "victory for a generation that will grow up smoke-free. Standardized packaging will reduce smoking rates and save lives … we will never allow the tobacco industry to dictate our policies."

The U.K.'s National Health Service says that smoking kills roughly 100,000 people a year and causes cancer in many parts of the body, including the lungs, stomach, mouth, bladder, throat and pancreas. Smoking also heightens a person's risk of heart attack, stroke and coronary heart disease.

"This landmark judgement is a crushing defeat for the tobacco industry and fully justifies the government's determination to go ahead with the introduction of standardized packaging," Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said in a statement.

"Millions of pounds have been spent on some of the country's most expensive lawyers in the hope of blocking the policy. This disgraceful effort to privilege tobacco business interests over public health has rightly failed utterly."

Not welcome

Unsurprisingly, the tobacco companies did not welcome the decision. Responding to the judgment, a spokesperson for British American Tobacco said the court's decision was "by no means the final word on the lawfulness of plain packaging."

"We believe that the judgment contains a number of fundamental errors of law and we are applying for leave to appeal the decision," they said in a statement.

The spokesperson added that the judgement, if left to stand, would raise concerns for "many other legitimate businesses … it creates a worrying precedent whereby public policy concerns can ride roughshod over long established fundamental commercial rights."

Simon Clark, director of smoker's group Forest, called the judgement "very disappointing" in a statement and added that plain packaging was "gesture politics designed to appease public health campaigners who are forever searching for new ways to force smokers to quit."

British American Tobacco's shares finished down 1.9 percent in London on Thursday, while Imperial Brands finished 0.6 percent lower. Japan Tobacco International fell by 2.0 percent overnight.

A shift in attitudes

Friday will also see all EU countries required to comply with the Tobacco Products Directive. Currently, the EU says that tobacco consumption represents a 25 billion euro ($28.05 billion) burden on public healthcare costs, with productivity losses of €8 billion per year.

This will mean, among other things, a ban on menthol cigarettes from 2020, larger and mandatory "graphic health warnings" on tobacco products, and health warnings for e-cigarettes containing nicotine becoming compulsory.

"The benefits of falling smoking rates are clear: not only do people enjoy better health and wellbeing, and significantly lower rates of chronic diseases and premature death related to tobacco, there is also a substantial economic benefit," Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said in a statement.

"A reduction in tobacco consumption of just 2 percent translates into annual health care savings of approximately 506 million euros for the EU," he added.