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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
Tobacco clampdown wins legal backing
Boy smoking
Smoking among children is a big concern
Tobacco companies have suffered a major setback in their bid to overturn strict new European Union regulations on the manufacture and marketing of cigarettes.

The Advocate General of the European Union's highest court has rejected arguments by British American Tobacco Ltd and Imperial Tobacco Ltd that the new laws were illegal.

Leendert Geelhoed, speaking in Luxembourg on Tuesday, said EU authorities were within their rights to set new limits on the levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes sold or produced for export in the EU.

He also backed new laws banning the use of terms such as 'light' and 'mild' to describe cigarette brands and obliging manufactures to place larger and more graphic health warnings on all packets.

Mr Geelhoed's opinion is not binding on the full European Court of Justice - but the advocate general's advice is usually followed.

British American Tobacco said it was still hopeful the court would overturn the regulations.

Michael Prideaux, BAT corporate and regulatory affairs director, said: "We remain convinced that the entire Directive is founded on an incorrect legal base, and that the EU is seeking to regulate beyond its remit."

Smuggling

The two British tobacco companies complained about the rules to the High Court of Justice in London a year ago, but the British judges passed the case on to the EU's high court.

The two firms argued the regulations were invalid because they were based on health policy and would not improve the EU's single market.

But Mr Geelhoed said the introduction of new EU-wide rules were necessary to ensure a level playing field for companies.

He added that the new regulations on the composition of cigarettes should also apply to exports to prevent smuggling of brands banned in the EU.

The regulations were voted into law by the European Parliament in May 2001 and will force tobacco companies to cover over one-third of each cigarette packet with bold health warnings.

Under the rules EU governments were also given the option of requiring the addition of graphic photographs illustrating smoking-induced health risks.

The laws, which are due to come into force at the end of this month, were hailed as a turning point by anti-smoking campaigners.

But manufacturers warned that thousands of jobs would be jeopardised by the ban on the sale and manufacture of cigarettes with more than 10 milligrams of tar, particularly through the loss of exports to Asia, Australia and Africa, where consumers demand stronger cigarettes.

Campaigners' response

Clive Bates, director of the anti-tobacco campaigning group ASH, welcomed the Advocate General's opinion.

"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."

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 ON THIS STORY
Michael Prideaux, British American Tobacco
"We don't really consider that the increased size of the health warning will bring any benefit to consumers"
Clive Bates from Action on Smoking and Health
"The new wordings [of warnings] are much stronger, they give you much more information"
See also:

30 May 01 | Health
17 Jun 02 | Health
26 Jul 01 | Health
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