EU Proposes New Ban on Tobacco Ads
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The European Union's head office proposed tough new restrictions on tobacco advertising Wednesday that could outlaw cigarette ads in newspapers, magazines and at international sports events around the EU.
The European Commission's proposals -- which would also ban tobacco ads on radio and the Internet -- came after a previous ban was overturned in October following a court challenge by the German government, tobacco firms and advertising companies.
EU Health Commissioner David Byrne said he was confident the new rules would win approval from EU governments, withstand any legal challenge and become law across the 15-nation bloc by 2004 as part of his drive to reduce smoking.
``Smoking kills over half a million EU citizens per year, robbing people years of life expectancy,'' Byrne said. ``These lost consumers have to be replaced through advertising and promotion.''
The proposal is expected to run into stiff opposition from Austria and Germany when Byrne presents it to a meeting of EU health ministers Tuesday in Luxembourg.
Major tobacco companies reacted cautiously to the proposals.
In a statement, Philip Morris said it welcomed restrictions that limit children's exposure to cigarette advertising, but said regulations should ``permit such marketing to be directed toward adult smokers.''
Tim Smith, senior director of Japan Tobacco International in Geneva, said his company needed time to study the proposals but added ``advertising and sponsorship are natural elements of competition and an important means of communication.''
Byrne is trying to get the rules approved as an internal trade measure that requires the backing of a majority of EU nations, rather than unanimity.
Germany succeeded in blocking the previous ban when the European Court of Justice backed its assertion the restrictions were a public health law which needed unanimous support from all 15 governments.
But Byrne said the court ruling held out the prospect that correctly drafted trade legislation could be used to prohibit certain kinds of advertising.
``The new proposal takes full account of the judgment of the Court,'' Byrne said. ``The Commission has given full attention to ensuring that its new proposal is legally and scientifically sound.''
By focusing on advertising that crosses borders within the EU, Byrne believes he can get the proposal adopted under the majority vote procedures. He has dropped plans in the previous bill to ban tobacco advertising in cinemas and billboards.
``A vast majority of member states are in favor of this proposal, as is the European Parliament,'' he said.
Byrne has pledged to continue a drive to cut the number of smokers in the EU from the current ratio of around a third of adults to levels in the United States, where around one in five smoke.
This month, the European Parliament voted into law his proposals to force tobacco companies to cut the level of tar and nicotine in cigarettes and increase the size of health warnings on packages.
The EU already bans tobacco advertising on television and several EU nations including France, Italy, Portugal and Finland have wider restrictions similar to those proposed for the whole Union.