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Health Minister Nicola Roxon has vowed to fight legal action threatened by tobacco companies over changes to cigarettes packaging which will pass through the Senate today.

From December next year, colourful tobacco brand logos will be replaced by plain packets bearing gruesome pictures of smoking-related disease to make the product less attractive.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates 15,500 Australians are killed by tobacco-related diseases every year, and says passive smoking affects the health of children.

Tobacco industry spokesman Scott Macintyre has predicted that the Government is going to have to spend "millions of dollars" of taxpayers' money fighting challenges in court, followed by "potentially billions of dollars" in compensation to the tobacco industry.

"We've invested billions of dollars into these brands. Unfortunately, it looks like the government is pushing us down that path," Mr Macintyre told the ABC.

But Ms Roxon says the government is ready for a fight.

"We are not going to be bullied into not taking this action just because big tobacco companies say they might fight us in the courts," she told reporters in Brisbane.

"Big tobacco have been fuming from day one that this is a law they don't want introduced. They want to keep selling their deadly product and we want to reduce their market, so we are destined to disagree with each other."

Ms Roxon says she does not buy the argument the Government will have to pay billions in compensation.

"They're using that as a way of threatening both the Government and the Senate to try not to proceed with this law," she said.

"We're ready for that if they take legal action. We hope that they don't.

"We believe this is a measure that is in the interests of the community, and it would be better off for tobacco companies to look at something to invest in which is not so harmful to the community."

Australia will become the first country to introduce plain packaging laws, and Ms Roxon says the move will reduce the number of deaths from smoking-related diseases.

"It will give our country the best chance of having the lowest smoking rates and, of course, that will mean many lives are saved and many families that don't go through the grief and pain of seeing someone die because of a tobacco-related illness," she said.

The Opposition has said it will support the legislation after it was accused of being in the pockets of big tobacco and accepting substantial political donations from the industry.

But it will oppose the bill that will allow the Government to override trademark rights held by cigarette manufacturers.

Despite that, the laws will pass through the Senate with the support of the Greens today.
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