EU Court OKs Tobacco|Reforms & Menthol Ban

     (CN) — The European Court of Justice on Wednesday upheld sweeping tobacco reforms passed by EU lawmakers — including a complete ban of menthol cigarettes — finding the reforms are necessary to protect public health.
     In 2014, EU lawmakers passed strict new regulations on tobacco products, including a continent-wide standard for packages, warnings and permitted information. The regulations also completely ban menthol and other flavored cigarettes in the EU by 2020 and set up special rules for electronic cigarettes.
     Romania, Poland and Big Tobacco balked, complaining the EU had overstepped its authority with the reforms and brought actions challenging them in both British courts and the European Court of Justice.
     In a trio of advisory opinions for the EU high court in late 2015, Advocate General Juliane Kokott batted away challenges by Phillip Morris and other tobacco companies regarding packaging, shape, minimum content and health warning labels — which must make up 65 percent of both the front and back of a pack’s surface area — serve the greater goods of public health and smoking cessation.
     Kokott also said a ban on packaging statements, including true statements like “organically farmed tobacco,” that cast cigarettes in a deceptively positive light should be upheld in the interest of public health.
     As to the ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes, Poland and Romania complained that EU lawmakers stripped member states of their rights to do their own regulating. But Kokott found that national rules on flavored cigarettes don’t do enough to address the EU-wide problem of smoking, a problem compounded by flavorings that mask the inherently foul taste of cigarettes and make them more appealing to nonsmokers.
     She also advised the high court to reject calls by an e-cigarette maker to ditch warning label requirements, advertising and sponsorship bans and limits on nicotine content, saying the rules are minor by comparison to the hoops conventional cigarette manufacturers must jump through to sell their products.
     On Wednesday, the Luxembourg-based high court agreed with its adviser’s assessments and upheld the tobacco reforms in full.
     Regarding Romania and Poland, the court noted that before the tobacco reform bill there was too much regulatory divergence between member states regarding flavored tobacco products. Specifically, some member states permitted some flavorings but not others while other states had not adopted any restrictions on flavored cigarettes at all.
     But what is true across all member states is that flavored cigarettes — including menthol, which has long been on the European market — “have certain similar objective characteristics and similar effects as to initiating tobacco consumption and sustaining tobacco use,” the high court wrote.
     While Poland had advocated for other less-restrictive measures for flavored cigarettes, including raising the legal age to purchase them and barring cross-border sales, the court found none would go far enough to satisfy the EU’s overarching goal of curbing smoking.
     As for Big Tobacco’s challenge of the EU’s new packaging standards, the court again said that the EU did not go beyond what is “appropriate and necessary” to educate consumers on the risks associated with smoking.
     Finally, the high court agreed that the e-cigarette requirements are far less strict than those on traditional cigarettes and rejected the manufacturer’s claims of unequal treatment.

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