Tobacco companies challenge EU product directive

24 August, 2001

Two UK tobacco companies have announced today that they are to file a legal action challenging a new European Directive which imposes further restrictions on the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products. The Directive is expected to become law in the UK by September 2002.

British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco are jointly asking the High Court to refer the Directive to the European Court of Justice on the grounds that it violates several principles of European law and should be declared invalid.

Liz Buckingham, Group Communications Manager for Imperial Tobacco, said: “We are committed to working with regulators to achieve sensible and practical regulation that is appropriate to meeting public health and other objectives. But this Directive is legally flawed and imposes unreasonable measures with no supporting evidence that they will be effective.”

"For example, Imperial Tobacco does not believe that banning exports of cigarettes containing over 10 mg of tar, imposing even larger health warnings and banning the use of descriptors such as “light” and “mild” will achieve the health goals identified by the Commission.”

"If this Directive is implemented, it will result in jobs being exported from Europe and undermine the right of the UK Government to decide on health issues for British citizens.”

The Directive claims to have its legal base principally in Article 95 of the EC Treaty, which allows the European Union to introduce harmonising measures with a view to establishing a European-wide market without internal frontiers. In reality, the Directive is a public health measure but it is being introduced as an internal market measure.

Imperial Tobacco has joined this action with extreme reluctance and only after very careful consideration because it does not believe that the EU has the legal power to legislate as it proposes on these matters. The Company does not oppose reasonable and fair regulation of tobacco products. National governments have a legitimate role to play in acting on their concerns about smoking, and they have the responsibility for determining appropriate regulatory controls in their own countries. If they wish to impose restrictions on the manufacture, sale and presentation of tobacco products, it should be a matter for them, not for the EU.

Imperial Tobacco would prefer to have resolved this matter through dialogue with the European Commission and the UK government. However, when faced with this flawed proposal, the Company felt it had no choice other than to ask the European Court of Justice to intervene. This action does not alter the Company’s commitment to continue dialogue with the UK Government and the European Commission on all issues related to tobacco and smoking, and to engage in debate to find real solutions to matters of concern.

24 August 2001

For further information contact:

Alex Parsons, Group Media Relations Manager
Tel +44 (0)117 963 6636

Alan Porter, Legal Manager
Tel +44 (0)117 963 6636