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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 09:16 GMT
Tobacco firms lose health warning fight
Ashtray
Tobacco companies challenged health warning rules
Tobacco companies have lost their fight against the imposition of tough new health warnings on products in the European Union.

The companies were challenging the legality of the warnings.

The decision on Tuesday, by the EU's highest court, means the terms "light" and "mild" are banned.

Under the ruling, health warnings must cover 30% of the front of cigarette packets and 40% of the back.

We seek to maintain the rights of our adult consumers to receive full information about our products without having to suffer fallout from the Commission's crusade against the tobacco industry

Michael Prideaux, BAT

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg made its decision after British American Tobacco (BAT) and Imperial Tobacco challenged the Tobacco Products Directive.

It ruled: "The court upholds the validity of the (EU) directive on the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products.

"The ban on using certain descriptions on tobacco product packaging, such as 'light' and 'mild' applies only to products marketed within the Community and not to those exported to non-member countries."

UK smokers could see bolder warnings on products from autumn next year. Cigarette packets may also eventually carry graphic images to illustrate health risks.

The ruling will also limit the actual amount of nicotine in products.

'Control'

In a separate move, the English Royal College of Physicians called for a body to be established to regulate tobacco and nicotine products.

The RCP said the products killed 120,000 people a year in the UK, but were less controlled than food and drugs.

This gives the all-clear for big, bold, bleak warnings on cigarettes

Clive Bates, Action on Smoking and Health
John Britton, a professor of epidemiology and chairman of the RCP's tobacco advisory group, said: "The most dangerous product has the greatest market freedom while the safest are given the greatest degree of control."

BAT said the EU ruling raised concerns about the body's regulatory powers.

Michael Prideaux, BAT's corporate and regulatory affairs director, said: "We have always supported reasonable, fact based regulation and we hope that in the future the Commission will regulate in a balanced way with proper consultation.

"We seek to maintain the rights of our adult consumers to receive full information about our products without having to suffer fallout from the Commission's crusade against the tobacco industry."

The court backed EU law in every respect except in regard to applying EU standards to export tobacco products.

Liz Buckingham, a spokeswoman for Imperial Tobacco, said: "We are very disappointed that all other aspects of the directive remain valid.

"We believe it imposes unreasonable measures with no supporting evidence that they will be effective."

Public health

Clive Bates of the organisation Action on Smoking and Health told BBC News Online: "This gives the all-clear for big, bold, bleak warnings on cigarettes.

"It also signals the end of misleading labelling on packets, which is one of the biggest con-tricks of all time."

Dr Sinéad Jones, director of the British Medical Association's Tobacco Control and Resource Centre, said: "Every day Europe's doctors come face to face with the suffering and death caused by tobacco.

"Smokers have the right to clear, accurate information about the health effects of tobacco, and to be protected against misleading claims that some cigarettes are safer than others."

Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation said: "Using terms like ¿mild¿ and ¿light¿ on cigarette packets is utterly misleading and has led young people especially to believe that certain brands of cigarettes are less harmful to lung health.

"Thank goodness this madness will now be put to an end. Tobacco cigarettes are not safe in any shape or form and this message needs to be made crystal clear. "

Last week, EU health ministers banned tobacco advertising on the radio, in newspapers and on the Internet.

MEP Julian Maaten 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."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Patrick Bartlett reports from Brussels
"It was decided that the words light and mild were misleading"
Michael Prideaux, BAT
"I think it will make communicating with out adult customers that much harder."
Michael Thibodeau, brand consultant
"Some cigarette brands will have to change their name"
See also:

15 May 01 | Health
30 May 01 | Health
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