EU court upholds new tobacco laws on packaging, menthol cigarettes

The EU’s top court on Wednesday (4 May) ruled that the bloc’s new laws on plain tobacco packaging and ban on menthol cigarettes were legal, rejecting a challenge by tobacco giant Philip Morris and others.

The European Court of Justice threw out appeals by Philip Morris, maker of iconic brands such as Marlboro, and the Polish government, against a tobacco directive adopted in 2014.

“The new EU directive on tobacco products is valid,” the Luxembourg-based court said.

“The extensive standardisation of packaging, the future EU-wide prohibition on menthol cigarettes and the special rules for electronic cigarettes are lawful.”

Philip Morris, along with British American Tobacco, had lodged a case in UK courts criticising the plain packaging requirement, which eliminates manufacturers’ branding and product claims in favour of dominant health warnings.

The company argued that the rules distorted the EU’s single market and undercut consumer choice.

The court also rejected Poland’s appeal against the ban on menthol cigarettes, pointing out that “menthol, by to its pleasant flavour, makes tobacco products more attractive to consumers”.

The rulings had been expected as the senior lawyer to the EU court had said the new laws were “proportionate” in December.

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The first tobacco control legislation in the EU was introduced in the 1980s. Since then, EU legislation and policy has been further developed in the areas of product regulation, advertising and protecting people from second-hand smoke, as well as prevention.

The new Tobacco Product Directive seeks to regulate products that look and taste like tobacco with the aim of discouraging young people from taking up smoking in the first place.

The compromise stipulates that e-cigarettes will be considered like regular tobacco products if they contain nicotine in a concentration of more than 20 mg/ml.

However, individual member states can regulate e-cigarettes as medicines, if they are presented as having curative or preventive properties.

Refillable e-cigarettes will not be banned, but member states can ban specific types of cartridges for e-cigarettes, if they can justify the ban by safety concerns.

  • 20 May: E-cigarettes and other nicotine vapour products will be regulated in the EU under the Tobacco Products Directive.

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