European Court of Justice rules in favour of plain packaging directive for cigarettes

Irish legislation will remove tobacco branding from packets from next May


The introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products in Ireland has moved a step closer after the European Court of Justice rejected a case brought by big cigarette companies.

In a preliminary ruling, the advocate general of the court found that the standardisation of labelling and packaging is a ‘proportionate’ measure and that it decreases the ‘coolness’ of current packaging.

Tobacco giants Philip Morris and British American Tobacco had argued the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive was disproportionate and had no legal basis.

Advocate General Juliane Kokott found the directive, which would permit health warnings on two-thirds of tobacco packaging, was lawfully adopted.

In Ireland, the Government has passed legislation which would see tobacco branding removed completely from packets from next May. Another cigarette firm, Japan Tobacco International, has begun proceedings against the law but the judge in the case has indicated the Government will win if the European court rules in favour of the directive.

While today’s ruling from the advocate general is a preliminary one, the court’s final decision usually follows it. This will not be published for another few months.

The Irish Cancer Society welcomed the opinion, and claimed it “rubbishes the arguments of a tobacco industry that knows plain packaging works”.

“Plain packaging of tobacco saves lives,” said Kathleen O’Meara, head of advocacy & communications. “Big Tobacco is throwing everything at stopping its introduction in Ireland because they need to recruit 50 new smokers every day in Ireland to replace those dying and quitting.

“Today’s opinion means we’ve overcome a big hurdle. But the tobacco industry has deep pockets and this will not be the last legal challenge to plain packaging either here or at EU level.”