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Tobacco firms’ challenge to plain packaging stubbed out

EU advocate says 2014 EU tobacco directive calls for plain packaging on cigarette packs

The introduction of plain packaging rules for cigarettes is provided for in the 2014 EU tobacco directive, an advocate general to the European Court of Justice has said. She rejected arguments against the directive by major global tobacco groups.

Advocate general Juliane Kokott issued her opinions on a number of applications against the directive taken by tobacco firms and, in relation to one issue, Poland. Her opinions will be considered by the court which will make its findings at a later date.

Ms Kokott found the directive’s requirements relating to the size, shape and minimum content of cigarette packets were proportionate and made a particular contribution to the visibility and efficacy of health warnings.

New requirements to have health warnings covering 65 per cent of the front surface and back surface of a packet were neither arbitrary nor disproportionate, and it was right that the directive prohibited true statements which cast a tobacco product in a deceptively positive light.

“Even an organically farmed cigarette, for example, is still a product that is extremely harmful to health.”

Basic design

She also said that since the directive specified only a basic design for cigarette packets, “it also still leaves scope for additional national packaging standards, for example in respect of the colouring of surfaces not reserved for warnings (possibly through to the introduction of ‘plain packaging’).”

She said none of the arguments invoked by Poland against the prohibition on menthol cigarettes were well founded and its case should be dismissed. The new rule comes into effect in May 2020.

The flavouring of cigarettes could camouflage the generally very bitter and even pungent taste of tobacco smoke and create a serious risk of initiation for non-smokers into tobacco consumption, she said.

She also said the rules concerning e-cigarettes were moderate and not disproportionate. It was not manifestly wrong or unreasonable to accept that e-cigarettes possibly caused harm and could develop into a gateway to traditional tobacco consumption.

The directive’s implementation into British law is being challenged in the English high court.

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