Tobacco companies lose EU court appeal over graphic cigarette packaging rules

The decision sets a precedent that could see other governments launch a crackdown on a habit that kills six million people a year

Hazel Sheffield
Wednesday 04 May 2016 09:28 BST
BAT said when they launched the case they had 'no choice' but to take action
BAT said when they launched the case they had 'no choice' but to take action (Getty)

Tobacco firms have lost a legal challenge against EU rules that force them to put graphic images on cigarette packages warning people of the dangers of smoking.

Health companies have welcomed the decision by Europe's highest court to reject the challenge brought by Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco (BAT).

The decision sets a precedent that could see other governments launch a crackdown on a habit that kills six million people a year.

"The court finds that, in providing that each unit packet and the outside packaging must carry health warnings... the EU legislature did not go beyond the limits of what is appropriate and necessary," the court said in its decision.

It said EU member states might choose to go further than the ruling to including health warnings on packs of cigarettes, by introducing standardised "plain" packaging.

The decision to introduce plain packaging goes beyond the requirements of the European directive and must still comply with the EU and international law. Whether plain packaging meets these requirements is currently the subject of ongoing litigation before the English Courts and the World Trade Organization.

The UK, France and Ireland have passed legislation that will see plain packaging introduced on 20 May.

Philip Morris and BAT have sought to overturn measures on plain packaging to be introduced in May. The tobacco companies said the measures deprived them of property in the form of trademarks and was a violation of European intellectual property law.

In the UK, MPs voted to back plain packaging by 367 to 113 in March 2015.

The vote came one year after the publication of an independent review of evidence by Sir Cyril Chantler, which concluded it was “highly likely that standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking and implausible that it would increase the consumption of tobacco.”

Ash said it expects the UK court judgement to confirm that the introduction of standardised packaging in the UK is lawful.

"From 20th May all packs manufactured for sale in the UK will have to be plain, standardised in the same drab green colour with the product name on the pack in a standard font," Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said.

In Australia, where the measure was introduced in 2012, smoking rates fell by more than 12 per cent between December 2013 and 2014.

A spokeswoman from British American Tobacco said that the European court decision does not directly authorise EU member states to adopt plain packaging.

“Despite today’s decision by the European Court of Justice, we stand by our belief that the Tobacco Products Directive is a clear example of the EU overstepping the limits of its authority. The reality is that many elements of the directive are disproportionate, distort competition, and fail to respect the autonomy of the member states," the spokeswoman said.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in