EU Court Upholds Ban on 'Light' and 'Mild' Cigarette Labels
BRUSSELS -- The European Court of Justice, in a preliminary ruling, upheld a European Union ban on the use of "light" and "mild" labels on cigarette packets.
The court's advocate general ruled Tuesday that such descriptions were misleading because they illegally suggest that one tobacco product "is less harmful than others." His preliminary rulings are generally upheld in eight out of 10 cases.
The court will make a final decision in a few months.
Tobacco giants Imperial Tobacco Group PLC (ITY, news) and British American Tobacco PLC (BTI, news) brought the case in September 2001. They claimed that the labels were part of the actual cigarette brand and that the ban violated intellectual property laws.
The tobacco companies said they will release a statement later Tuesday once they had studied the full text of the decision.
The decision affects their global businesses. The advocate general said cigarettes exported from the European Union also couldn't contain the controversial labels.
Beginning Sept. 30, manufacturers no longer will be able to use the generic terms "light" or "mild." In addition, the health warnings on cigarette packages must be made larger and their wording strengthened.
By Sept. 30, 2003, brand names must be changed. Philip Morris Co. (MO, news) must change its Marlboro Lights and R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc.'s, its Camel Lights. European brands such as Austria's Milde Sorte and Portugal's Suave will also have to be renamed.
This is the second time tobacco companies and the European Union have clashed in court.
In October 2000, the Luxembourg-based judges overturned a European Union ban on tobacco advertising, saying the ban illegally prevented free trade.
The European Commission reacted to its defeat by launching a new anticigarette offensive. In December 2000, it proposed the new law banning light and mild labeling.
The new law also required tobacco companies to reduce the maximum amount of tar per cigarette to 10 milligrams from 12 milligrams, and set the maximum amount of nicotine at one milligram.
The Commission says 500,000 people in the EU die annually from tobacco-related illnesses.