Brussels, Dec. 10 (Reuters): The European Union’s highest court today backed tough health warnings on tobacco products, including a ban on the terms “light” and “mild” on product packaging within the EU.
The ruling against cigarette firms Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco comes after a decision last week by health ministers to ban tobacco advertising on the radio, in newspapers and on the Internet.
It adds support to a campaign against smoking in the bloc, where more than half-a-million people die of tobacco-related diseases each year.
The law demands health warnings cover 30 per cent of the front of cigarette packets and 40 per cent of the back, which the court said were not excessive.
“The court upholds the validity of the (EU) directive on the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products,” the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement.
“The ban on using certain descriptions on tobacco product packaging, such as ‘light’ or ‘mild’ applies only to products marketed within the community and not to those exported to non-member countries,” it added.
The court, agreeing with a formal opinion submitted by its advocate general in September, found in favour of the EU law in every respect except for its bid to apply EU standards to export tobacco products.
“We are very disappointed that all other aspects of the directive remain valid,” said Liz Buckingham, a spokeswoman for Imperial Tobacco. “We believe it imposes unreasonable measures with no supporting evidence that they will be effective.” The tobacco firms have no right to appeal the decision.
“This has gone as far as it can go,” she told Reuters. Jules Maaten, who sponsored the law being challenged through the European Parliament, said the court had struck a blow for public health.
“The industry took us to court as usual and yet again has had to bite the dust. From today onwards, Europe is more advanced than any other part of the world in combating tobacco addiction,” he said in a statement.
New standards on the composition of cigarettes marketed within the EU, including limits on their levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide, also will take effect from January 1, 2004 as part of the law.
The court threw out the firms’ claim that the law was invalid because the EU does not have the power to legislate on health policy. It said the law was valid because it was an attempt to harmonise standards within the EU. The tough new standards include a ban on the terms “light” and “mild” within the EU, which the court said would come into force on September 30.