Euro court fails to back tobacco firms’ move

British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco have hit a hurdle in their attempt to have the European Union’s directive on health warnings on cigarette packs ruled illegal.

The two took the EU to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), arguing that it is not allowed to set rules on health and must leave such matters to the individual member states. The directive, due to come into force across the EU by 2003, requires manufacturers to put much bigger health warnings on packs than those that are currently being used by tobacco manufacturers.

But Leendert Geelhoed, advocate general of the ECJ, ruled yesterday (Tuesday) that the EU could impose the directive because it was a matter of single-market harmonisation. He added that if it was left to the 15 member states to make individual tobacco labelling laws, the result would effectively be the creation of trade barriers within Europe.

Geelhoed also ruled that the EU could require cigarette packs made for export to non-EU countries to carry the same health labelling as those sold inside the EU.

Ruling on a separate challenge brought by Japan Tobacco, Geelhoed said the EU can also ban terms such as “light” and “mild” on packs for sale in the EU but not on packs for export. Japan Tobacco owns Mild Seven, the world’s second-biggest cigarette brand after Marlboro.

The 15-member ECJ is not required to follow the advocate general’s rulings, but it almost always does. The ECJ will issue its judgement later this year.

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