Brussels, Dec. 2 (Reuters): EU health ministers today backed a tough new law extending a ban on tobacco advertising to radio, newspapers and the Internet, but diplomats said Germany was likely to challenge it in the European Union’s top court.
The decision, hailed by health campaigners, was a blow to media companies at a time when advertising revenues have slumped due to an economic slowdown. The approval came despite opposition by Britain and Germany.
Ministers also approved recommendations to boost the fight against smoking inside the 15-nation bloc, where more than half-a-million people die of tobacco-related diseases each year.
EU rules already prohibit cigarette advertising on television and most member states have other extensive bans in place. The new law aims to standardise the varied legislation of the 15 EU states and set clear bans in various media. “Ministers today hit the tobacco industry where it hurts,” health commissioner David Byrne said in a statement after a debate among ministers at which Germany and Britian were outvoted.
“In the EU alone, Big Tobacco needs to recruit 500,000 new smokers each year to replace the ones who die prematurely due to smoking-related diseases. The measures we agreed today will make it more difficult for them to do that,” Byrne said.
The decision means the law will come into force 20 days after it is published in the EU’s Official Journal. Member states then have two years to implement it in national law.
Certain areas of tobacco advertising remain unaffected — posters, billboards, cinema and indirect advertising, such as cigarette logos on clothing. But the law allows member states to regulate these areas for themselves if they wish.
Magazines published outside the EU and distributed in member states will not be affected by the ban. Germany, keen to protect its ailing publishing sector, sought in vain to have national newspapers and magazines which are not sold across borders excluded from the ban.
A top German official said Berlin would examine whether to challenge the law in the European Court of Justice, since the EU was not empowered to regulate national advertising markets. “The government will examine the directive and decide whether to go court,” state secretary for consumer protection Alexander Mueller said.
Diplomats said a decision, most likely in favour of court action, was likely to be taken within the next three weeks.
British officials said London was concerned about whether the law was actually robust enough to withstand legal challenge by the tobacco industry.
“If there is any gap in the directive, the industry will seek to exploit this,” health secretary Alan Milburn said.