(CN) - Sweeping tobacco reforms passed by EU lawmakers - including a complete ban on menthol cigarettes - passed muster with a European court adviser Wednesday, despite strong opposition from Romania, Poland and Big Tobacco.
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.
Some member states and tobacco companies balked at the rules, by and large complaining the EU legislature had overstepped its bounds with the reforms, and brought actions challenging them in both British courts and before the European Court of Justice.
In a trio of advisory opinions for the EU high court, Advocate General Juliane Kokott found the tobacco reforms were legally valid.
Regarding a challenge brought by Phillip Morris and other tobacco companies regarding packaging standards, Kokott said requirements of shape - cube only - size and minimum content of 20 cigarettes per package are not disproportionate since they serve the greater purposes of public health and steering people away from smoking.
Kokott also found that new requirements for health warnings - including text and photos - to make up 65 percent of both the front and back of the box's surface area would serve the EU's goal of deterring particularly kids and young adults from smoking.
She also said the directive rightly prohibits companies from making statements on the packaging that cast cigarettes in a deceptively positive light, even when the statements are true, like "organically farmed tobacco."
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.
Electronic cigarette maker Pillbox challenged regulations that require warning labels, set a limit on nicotine content, ban advertising and sponsorship and mandate annual reporting. But Kokott said the rules are relatively minor compared to those placed on conventional cigarettes and by international standards, and therefore not disproportionate.
She also found the EU legislature's view that differences in member states' regulation of e-cigarettes required a continent-wide approach was valid - particularly given the product's rise in popularity and potential appeal with young people.
Kokott's opinions are not binding on the European Court of Justice, which has begun its own deliberations in the cases.
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