EU Parliament Votes In Favor Of Tobacco Advertising Ban
BRUSSELS -(Dow Jones)- The European Parliament Wednesday voted in favor of radical plans to curtail tobacco advertising in the European Union.
By a margin of 311 votes to 202, the E.U. assembly meeting in Strasbourg France, approved a bill banning all tobacco ads in print, radio, and on the Internet. It also forbids tobacco companies from sponsoring sports events, such as Formula One, which take place in more than one European country, and ends the free distribution of tobacco products as a means of promotion.
"Members of the European Parliament kept clear heads despite all the smoke in the air," said David Byrne, E.U. Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection.
The law would replace different standards in E.U. countries.
It still needs to be passed twice by parliament and approved by E.U. governments before taking effect. E.U. ministers will give their first assessment Dec. 2.
More than half a million Europeans die of tobacco-related diseases each year, the E.U. says.
An E.U. law already bans tobacco advertising and sponsorship on television, and most member countries already have extensive tobacco ad bans on their books.
The draft law doesn't cover cinema advertising, billboards, posters or indirect advertising, such as ads for RJR Nabisco Co.'s Camel-brand clothing. They all will still be allowed.
Despite intensive lobbying by tobacco and advertising industries, parliamentarians rejected a series of amendments which would have watered down some of the bill's key provisions. They did, however, agree to one small change that would prevent the Commission from widening the scope of the legislation at a later date.
The legislation still faces an uncertain future.
The European Court of Justice struck down a similar law in October 2000 after legal challenges from the German government, backed by Imperial Tobacco Ltd. ( ITY) and publishers. Europe's highest court said the rules were too sweeping and that national governments - not the Commission - are responsible for health policy. Germany argued the ban on all advertising and sponsorship in the E.U. went too far.
Tobacco producers said they were "disappointed" that parliamentarians had agreed to a virtually blanket ban.
In particular, they don't think the law should cover local newspapers as well as major national and international publications. They argue that advertising in local newspapers doesn't typically cross borders and therefore shouldn't fall under the law.
"We accept that the industry should be regulated and that certain restrictions should apply in order to protect minors," said Claude Soenmez, a director of corporate affairs for Japan Tobacco Inc. . "But in this instance there is no legal basis" for an E.U.-wide ban.
As a result, the bill risks being challenged in the courts and could create further legal uncertainty for the industry, she said.
But Byrne said the Commission had done its homework and that its latest salvo would stand up to court scrutiny.
The Commissioner said he expects E.U. health ministers to approve the legislation with only minor changes next month as "14 of the E.U.'s 15 member states are in favor," of passing it. This would clear the way for the bill to come into force by July 2005, he said.
It was a bad day for events organizers.
Parliamentarians rejected moves that would have allowed sporting events to carry tobacco ads until October 2006. This is a blow to Formula One which relies heavily on tobacco sponsorship, and could raise the prospect of more events being held beyond Europe's borders. Belgium's hopes of hosting next year's race, for example, look almost certain to be dashed after it enacted its own ads ban.