EU Tobacco Ad Ban Overturned
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - The European Union's court overturned an EU ban on tobacco advertising Thursday, ruling that the prohibition was legally flawed.
The European Court of Justice said in a statement that the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, has no power in the area of health regulation and therefore no authority to ban tobacco advertising within the 15-nation EU.
The Luxembourg-based court said the ban did not contribute to the free movement of goods and services, but rather that it blocked it.
``The general prohibition of numerous types of advertising of tobacco products (on posters, parasols, ashtrays and other articles used in hotels, and advertising spots in cinemas) in no way helped to facilitate trade in the products concerned,'' the court wrote.
The case against the EU-wide tobacco advertising ban was launched by Germany along with several tobacco and advertising companies. They claimed the ban impeded the single market for goods and services and was imposed to protect public health, an area in which the EU has no regulatory powers.
When the ban was adopted by a vote among the EU governments in 1998, Germany voted against it but was overruled by its EU partners. The Commission said the ban was designed to end unfair trade advantages since some EU nations prohibited tobacco advertising. Germany and Austria have no such bans.
The ruling was a blow to the EU efforts to get Europeans to stop smoking. EU officials say that smoking kills half a million Europeans a year.
Tobacco critics expressed dismay at the ruling and warned that tobacco firms may now attempt to reverse existing national tobacco ad bans.
``The Court defended the interests of the tobacco industry over the interests of European citizens,'' said Andrew Hayes of the Association of European Cancer Leagues.
The World Health Organization (news - web sites) urged European governments to draft a new ban on tobacco advertising. ``The invalidation of this tobacco control legislation is of serious concern,'' the U.N. health agency said in a statement.
``Tobacco advertising bans protect people, especially the young,'' said WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland.
Brundtland said a global ban on advertising and sponsorship should be central to a planned international convention to control tobacco. Public hearings on WHO's proposed convention take place next week in Geneva.
EU Health Commissioner David Byrne said he would push ahead with efforts to discourage smoking. Still to be implemented is a measure forcing tobacco companies to print health warnings covering almost half of a pack of cigarettes.
Byrne adeed, ``I am determined to bring forward new measures to tackle the pernicious effects of tobacco smoking, particularly for children and young people who are one of the main target groups of tobacco companies.''
But the Central Association of the German Advertising Industry applauded the decision, saying it meant advertising bans will be practically shut off as a means of shaping the common market.
Tobacco companies reacted favorably as well.
``We will continue to take measures on our own initiative to ensure responsible practices,'' said Hans Fluri, president of Philip Morris Europe SA.