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EU judges didn’t “meddle” on tobacco law

by Jack Schickler | 05.05.2016

“EU judges meddle in lives of ordinary Britons by banning packs of 10 and menthol cigarettes,” says a Sun headline following a series of EU court judgments yesterday. The “verdicts in Brussels” raise “questions asked about influence of EU on our lives”, says the paper, which quotes UKIP’s Paul Nuttall calling them a “travesty of justice”. “European Court bans e-cigarette ads on TV”, says the Daily Mail, adding that the ruling will have “long-lasting implications” for the new technological alternative to tobacco.

In fact, far from interfering, the court agreed not to strike down new laws which the UK government has actively supported.

EU rules – agreed over two years ago and coming into effect in a few weeks’ time – aim to make tobacco products less attractive. Under the new laws, cigarette packets will have to feature large public health messages – and, to ensure those messages are visible, smaller packs of fewer than 20 will be forbidden. E-cigarettes face limits on nicotine levels and advertising, as well as labelling requirements. As of 2020, there is also a ban on menthol and other “flavoured” cigarettes.

Yesterday, the European Court of Justice based in Luxembourg – not Brussels, the Sun’s headline writers might note – saw off an attempted challenge to those rules and upheld the British government’s right to strengthen them. In three related cases, a group of tobacco firms, an e-cigarette manufacturer and the Polish government argued that the impact of the law on manufacturers was disproportionate to the claimed health benefits. Tobacco firms also said the restrictions infringed their freedom of expression under the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The British government, which was party to the first two cases and chose to intervene in the third, won all three. A spokesperson for the Department of Health welcomed the judgment and said the Tobacco Products Directive was “aimed at discouraging children from smoking and helping smokers to quit”. The ministry reckons the new rules could yield UK health benefits worth £13 billion. Indeed, the government has legislated to make the measures even tougher in the UK; from later this month cigarette logos will be banished from packaging. The court yesterday agreed we have the right to do impose those extra restrictions, even though EU law doesn’t oblige us to.

EU judges have neither meddled nor banned anything. They merely upheld a law supported by the government and empowered the UK to go even further in its campaign to curb smoking.

Contacted by InFacts, a Sun spokesperson said, “The British government, which is spending several millions of taxpayers’ cash trying to keep Britain in the EU, may well have agreed with and even wanted to go further on this ruling, but where is the democracy? There was no consultation, no scrutiny by MPs or Peers. As often happens, the ECJ has imposed a ruling on Britain without the due process of UK democracy. The Sun therefore stands completely behind this story.”

InFacts notes that the House of Commons and Lords both scrutinised the Tobacco Products Directive in 2013.

Edited by Alan Wheatley

3 Responses to “EU judges didn’t “meddle” on tobacco law”

  • This is all the quitters have to “win” the argument: deliberate misinformation (in brief: lies!). Like from today I read the reply from Niall Dickson – Chief Executive of the Genral Medical Council on he Metro newspaper about the previously published 12 points as to why to vote brexit in opposition to the 12 points as to why vote to remain. The point in question made by the quitters was about the fact that UK is obliged to take in all EU doctors regardless of their language skills and if they held the right qualifications. Niall Dickson reply was an unequivocable rebuttal of this absurd claim (being a NHS Consultant doctor myself I was appalled by this wrong assumption). He said that “IT IS not true” as since 2014 the GMC requires quite a hight treshold of English language skill before a EU doctor can practice here (before that anyway was not a EU obligation that forced GMC to accept even low language skilled doctors as it has always been the case that to practice in other EU countries you need to pass and obtain a certification of language skills). Moreover GMC requires qualifications from the EU doctor prior registration and requires as well “good standing” from the country of origin of EU doctors. To add another point: in my experience as an Italian qualified Consultant Radiologist working in UK since 2001 (apart from periods worked in Italy and the UAE) I was appalled myself at the prospect as to why the GMC was allowing foreign doctors (also from EU countries) to practice in UK without testing their communication skills. Such a move (before 2014) was irresponsible but – to stress the fact – this had NOTHING to do with EU regulations or obligation. It was a UK one. Infact nothing can stop the UK to seek such language skills also in other place of work. This can be a sensible thing, SURELY not discriminatory at all: whoever wants to work in UK has to demonstrate (with UK certification obtain like for example the IELTS) a certain level of ability of communication in English – for all citizens, including EU nationals. Who will be committed to come here will therefore be more focused in trying to obtain such certification (even if that EU or non EU national has to work from the field of science to that of fruit picking in a farm).

  • If you want to leave the EU so you can smoke, do not expect me to pay for your lung cancer operation. Supporting BREXIT at the instance of the tobacco lobby is a truly bankrupt political strategy born of the most hopeless desperation.

    Does The Sun have any idea how much the NHS spends on smoking-related diseases? Or, indeed, how long tobacco companies concealed the truth about the harm caused by their odious products?

    To say that nobody in our democracy among Parliamentarians in the UK and the EU had any say in the subject of the ECJ ruling flies in the face of all the press coverage there was about the debates on plain packaging that followedParliamentary reports. All you could ever need to know about how deeply our Parliament was involved is here:
    http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN06175

    Legislation was debated, passed and implemented by regulations laid before both houses. This was one of the most SOVEREIGN decisions in which we have ever been supported by the EU. Treble the tax on tobacco I say.

  • Whatever the rights and wrongs of the coverage of tobacco sales restrictions, it has nothing to do with why the UK should be a member of the EU or otherwise. The issue is one of whether or not the UK should submerge itself within an unaccoountable, autocratic European superstate, or whether it should remain a nation state with a liberal democracy. Everything else is simply trivial by comparison.