Tobacco companies including Philip Morris International Inc. and British American Tobacco Plc received a blow from an adviser to the European Union’s top court in their battle against EU orders to cover cigarette packs with graphic pictures and warning signs.
The 2014 EU rules “make a particular contribution to increasing the visibility of health warnings and maximizing their efficacy,” Advocate General Juliane Kokott of the EU Court of Justice said in a non-binding opinion Wednesday. “The coolness or the fun factor” and “the curiosity that may be inherent in new or unusual packaging then has a lesser influence on the decision to purchase.”
Wednesday’s opinion stems from a U.K. court case where judges last year asked their EU peers whether the European rules are valid. Philip Morris, BAT, Imperial Tobacco Group Plc and Japan Tobacco Inc., who control almost all of the 18.7 billion- pound ($27.8 billion) U.K. market earlier this month went to court again, this time claiming British measures violate the companies’ intellectual property rights.
The Luxembourg-based court’s final ruling -- expected in four to six months -- will be binding and usually follows the opinions of its advocates general.
The contested EU rules replaced a 2001 EU tobacco law forcing cigarette makers to put health warnings at the top of packages. Nations must ensure firms apply the measures, which also include a mandatory information message that tobacco smoke contains more than 70 cancer-causing substances.
Tobacco kills as many as 695,000 people a year in the EU, or one person every 45 seconds, according to the European Commission, which says a third of European adults still smoke. Smoking is the largest avoidable health risk in Europe, causing more problems than alcohol, drugs, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or obesity, according to the EU’s executive body, which proposed tougher rules in December 2012.
Kokott said EU nations are free to take the rules a step further on packaging standards, such as requiring plain cigarette packs, with no logos.
The U.K. and Ireland together with France are the first European countries to back such plain packaging, stamping out one of the last ways cigarette manufacturers can market their products to consumers.
The EU court adviser also backed a ban on menthol cigarettes as necessary because the flavor can “reduce or camouflage the generally very bitter and even pungent taste of tobacco smoke” and facilitate initiation to smoking. She also backed EU-wide rules for e-cigarettes, a “still relatively little known product for which there is a rapidly developing market.”
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