“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.”
Edited by Alan Wheatley