The UK’s leading tobacco companies will launch legal action against the government if it goes ahead will plans to force tobacco products into plain packaging.

The Department of Health’s consultation on plain packs closed this week and both Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International have made it clear they are willing to go to court to defend the right to use their branding.

“There is no evidence that plain packaging will work and given the serious negative impacts it will have, we think plain packaging should not be approved,” JTI’s UK boss Martin Southgate told The Grocer. “JTI will challenge regulation that is flawed, unreasonable, disproportionate or without evidential foundations.”

Imperial this week published its 83-page response to the consultation, stating why it believes introducing plain packaging would be illegal. It claims that enforcing plain packs is contrary to the rights to property, free movement of goods, freedom of speech and the right to conduct a business.

“Each of these rights is protected under national, European and international law,” said Imperial. “While these rights are not absolute, the government has not shown that standardised packaging is a justified interference.”

Next week, the Australian High Court will rule on a challenge by tobacco companies against that government’s plans to introduce plain packs in December.

Imperial warned that “irrespective of the outcome of these challenges, the applicable legal frameworks in the UK and Australia are different”, thus leaving the door open for legal action over here.

Paul Medicott, head of FMCG at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, agreed there were serious legal implications.