Britain flies in the face of Euro ban

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The Independent Online

Britain is set to introduce its own legislation to ban tobacco advertising after a decree from the European Union was overturned by the European Court of Justice.

Britain is set to introduce its own legislation to ban tobacco advertising after a decree from the European Union was overturned by the European Court of Justice.

The European ban was ruled unlawful in a move which follows a multi-million pound campaign spanning several years by the tobacco industry, supported by publishers who stand to benefit from its advertising revenues.

In its ruling, the Court said the Commission had "no power" to introduce the ban in the way that it had. The European ban was rejected on technical grounds - because the Commission introduced the measures under EU single market legislation and not as a health and safety issue. The Commission had chosen to use its single market provisions partly because EU laws on the single market only require a qualified majority of member states to approve them.

The Court today formally annulled the directive, but the Commission is expected to attempt another ban under health and safety issues before the end of the year.

The Commission chose to use its single market provisions which did not require a unanimous vote after Germany and Austria decided to oppose the ban. After 10 years of discussions, the rules were approved by EU health ministers in 1998 against German and Austrian opposition.

Under the EU Directive, tobacco advertising on television is already outlawed in 15 EU countries. And the rules as they stand will trigger a ban on billboard and cinema advertising of tobacco products in July 2001, with newspaper and magazine tobacco promotions rendered illegal by 2005.

Sports and cultural sponsorship by tobacco companies will be outlawed by 2003, although Formula One was granted an exemption until 2006, by which time the only smoking publicity allowed will be in specialist tobacco trade journals and inside shops which sell cigarettes.

The Formula One exemption is controversial in Britain because of suggestions of improper behaviour by the Labour Party. One of its major donors was revealed to be Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One.

Labour health spokesman in the European Parliament, Catherine Stihler said: We battled for over a decade on these ads. If the judges do overturn the ban it will be a terrible disappointment. It is outrageous that companies like Marlboro, Benson and Hedges and Rothmans have used every legal trick in the book to put a stop to these new rules.

"The tobacco industry may delay this ban but they will not stop it. We may lose this battle on a technicality but Europe's war against tobacco must go on.

"Almost 100 million people died from tobacco-related illnesses in the 20th century and if current smoking patterns continue the number for the 21st century could be one billion."

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