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Thailand to appeal after Philip Morris wins tobacco case

Philip Morris International Operation Center is pictured in Lausanne August 19, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Philip Morris International Operation Center is pictured in Lausanne August 19, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The Thai government plans to appeal a court victory by tobacco giant Philip Morris to keep larger health warnings off cigarette packets for sale in Thailand.

The Central Administrative Court ruled last Friday to temporarily suspend a new health ministry regulation requiring tobacco warning labels to cover 85 percent of the visible pack, up from 55 percent now.

"We have discussed with health minister and legal experts, and we will file an appeal to the Supreme Administrative court in the next two weeks," Nopporn Cheanklin, deputy director of the Health Ministry's Disease Control Department, told Reuters.

The Thai unit of Philip Morris International Inc filed a lawsuit against the Public Health Ministry on June 26 that asked the Administrative Court to abolish the regulation, which would have taken effect on Oct 2.

The Thai Tobacco Trade Association, which represents more than 1,400 retailers nationwide, also filed a similar case, saying the ministry's regulation was "unconstitutional".

The Administrative Court's suspension will take effect until the court comes up with a final verdict.

About 50,700 people die from smoking-related diseases each year in Thailand, according to the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. It estimates that 13 million of Thailand's 65 million people are smokers, including 2.2 million minors.

Onanong Pratakphiriya, spokeswoman of Philip Morris (Thailand), said in a statement the health ministry failed to consult related parties in the tobacco industry before imposing any new regulation.

"We have clarified to the court that the regulation was not in accordance with legal process and was unnecessary because Thailand already has high awareness about the risks of smoking on health," the statement said.

Philip Morris, the distributor of Marlboro and L&M cigarettes, has a 20 percent share of cigarettes in Thailand.

(Reporting by Khettiya Jittapong. Editing by Jason Szep and Michael Perry)

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