The European Union’s high court on Tuesday rejected the tobacco industry’s challenge to new EU rules that ban the use of such terms as “mild” or “light” in making or marketing cigarettes.
The European Court of Justice rejected arguments by British American Tobacco Ltd. and Imperial Tobacco Ltd. that the new rules were illegal.
The Luxembourg-based court said the EU authorities were within their rights to set new limits on the levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes sold in the EU and those produced in the 15-nation bloc for export.
It also backed new laws banning the use of terms such as “light” and “mild” within the EU to describe cigarette brands and obliging manufactures to place larger, more graphic health warnings on all packets.
“The ban on the use of descriptive terms suggesting that a certain tobacco product is less harmful than others which might mislead consumers is appropriate,” the court said in a statement.
However, the court allowed European manufacturers to continue to use the “mild” and “light” labels on cigarettes exported outside the EU.
The two British tobacco companies complained about the rules to the High Court of Justice in London last year which passed the case on to the EU high court for a ruling.
The European court upheld the EU argument that the strict laws were needed to ensure a level playing field for companies throughout the bloc. It also agreed the new regulations on the composition of cigarettes should also apply to exports to prevent smuggling of brands banned in the EU.
In a statement, British American Tobacco said the ruling should be viewed with concern by business as it increases the regulatory powers of the EU’s head office.
“We seek to maintain the rights of our adult consumers to receive full information about our products without having to suffer fallout from the (European) Commission’s crusade against the tobacco industry,” said Michael Prideaux, BAT’s corporate and regulatory affairs director.
The regulations were voted into law by the European Parliament in May, 2001, and will force tobacco companies to cover over one-third of each cigarette packet with bold health warnings.
Under the rules, EU governments were also given the option of requiring the addition of graphic photographs illustrating smoking-induced health risks.
The ban on “light” and “mild” labels in the EU takes effect Sept. 30, 2003, while the new rules on the composition of cigarettes are applicable starting Jan. 1, 2004. The measures have been hailed as a turning point by anti-smoking campaigners.
Manufacturers have warned thousands of jobs would be jeopardized by the ban on the sale and manufacture of cigarettes with more than 10 milligrams of tar, particularly through the loss of exports to Asia, Australia and Africa, where consumers demand stronger cigarettes.
Under the new regulations on labeling, well known international brands such Marlboro Lights and Camel Lights, as well as European brands such as Austria’s Milde Sorte and Portugal’s Suave will have to be renamed for sale inside the EU.