Cigarette regulation – European Advocate General delivers opinion in favour of health and slap in the face to tobacco companies

Tuesday 10 September 2002

ASH news release:  Immediate Tuesday 10th September 2002
The prospect of larger health warnings, a ban on misleading ‘light branding’, and full disclosure of additives in cigarettes came one step closer to reality today.  The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice delivered a formal opinion [1] arguing that the 2001 directive on tobacco product labelling and regulation [2] is valid in EU treaty law and the tobacco companies’ legal challenge to it was without merit.  The first measures come in later this year – warnings will go from 6% of the pack face to at least 30% on the front and 40% on the back, and become bold black and white with new stronger messages.

This is only an opinion, and the European Court of Justice will make the final decision later this year, but the Advocate General is an important influence on the Court and his advice will form the starting point of the Justices deliberations.

Clive Bates, Director of the anti-tobacco campaigning group ASH, said:

This is a good day for Europe because it shows that it is possible to build health and consumer protection into free trade and that the EU can put its citizens before the commercial freedom of tobacco companies.

It means we are close to having more visible warnings and removal of misleading branding, such as ‘light’ and ‘mild,’ which is one of the worst consumer confidence tricks of all time.

The tobacco companies are trying to use technical legal arguments to overturn measures agreed by a majority of European governments and the European Parliament, and widely supported by the public.

We really need to put warnings on packs that convey the danger not just in words but also in terms of impact and visibility.  If the warnings are hardly visible, why should smokers take them seriously?

The companies moan about not being able to export cigarettes that are considered unacceptable in Europe, and threaten to move their factories causing job losses.  But that is always the argument of polluters and abuser when facing new regulations – they rarely act on the threat and are closing British factories anyway, for other reasons.

ASH believe that some of the best elements of the EU directive could spread world-wide if adopted in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [3] which is under negotiation between governments and should be finalised in May 2003.  Bates added:

We hope several elements of the European approach will be adopted world wide when 190 governments complete negotiations of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, that will stop European tobacco companies doing things in developing countries that they will no longer be able to do here.

[1] See press release: Opinion of Advocate General Geelhoed in Case C-491/01 [view]

[2] Directive 2001/37/EC [view pdf]

[3] WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [view] also see ASH/CTFK critique of text [view pdf]


Contact: Clive Bates 020 7739 5902 (w) 077 6879 1237 (m) ISDN available