Japan resists EU tobacco label ban

Japan is understood to be considering an appeal to the World Trade Organisation over European Union proposals to ban the use of terms such as “light” and “mild” for cigarettes.

Japan Tobacco International (JTI), the world’s third-biggest tobacco company, has so far failed to derail a planned EU directive on the labelling of tobacco products, which would effectively bar its Mild Seven – the world’s second-biggest cigarette brand – from the EU (MW September 12). Now the Japanese government, which owns two-thirds of JTI, is apparently stepping up the pressure by telling EU officials that it will invoke the WTO disputes procedure because the EU directive would impose a “technical barrier to trade”.

Matti Rajala, head of the tobacco policy unit at the European Commission, told delegates of Japan’s intention at a recent two-week meeting in Geneva about proposed World Health Organisation regulations to curb smoking. A WTO spokesman said no official complaint had yet been received under the WTO complaints procedure.

A spokesman for JTI says the company is “not aware of any conversations between the Japanese government and the WTO”. He also denies that JTI has registered M* Seven as an EU trademark to provide an alternative brand name if the ban goes through. “It is to protect our trademark rights,” he says.

JTI was created in 1999 after Japan Tobacco acquired RJR International, the non-US tobacco interests of RJR Nabisco. JTI owns four of the five top-selling cigarette brands in the world – Mild Seven, Camel, Winston and Salem. The world’s best-selling brand is Philip Morris’s Marlboro.

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