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The European Court of Justice today ruled that the EU Tobacco Products Directive [TPD] is valid, rejecting the multiple legal challenges it has attracted since its adoption in 2014. The TPD, drawn up to increase protections for public health, will now come into force on 20 May 2016.

The directive includes a ban on menthol cigarettes, standardisation of tobacco labelling and packaging, and special rules for e-cigarettes. Various provisions were contested by Poland, Philip Morris and other industry representatives and Totally Wicked e-cigarettes. The court ruling states that these requirements are legal and in line with the directive’s key aims: to protect human health and to meet its obligations as a Party to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The Union’s UK-based Department of Tobacco Control welcomes the decision of the court as a major step forward for tobacco control in the region and globally. The Union has supported Smoke-Free Partnership -- a civil society organisation advocating for compliance with the directive across the European Union -- through the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use grants programme.

‘Today’s ruling covers the world’s largest economic block. It gives countries the backing they need to confidently pursue policies that protect public health,’ said Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control. ‘The outcomes of ongoing legal battles on plain packaging in the UK, France and Ireland should now be clear, and this will open the way for other countries to introduce this high impact policy.’

The directive states that all tobacco packaging must feature health warnings, photograph and text, covering 65 percent of the surface area, front and back. It also clarifies that countries may introduce even stronger measures for tobacco packaging, namely the plain packs so successfully pioneered in Australia.

The court also found that the pleasant flavour of menthol cigarettes makes them more attractive to consumers, regardless of health warnings. In order to reduce tobacco use and uptake by new users, menthol cigarettes were therefore banned.

New special rules for e-cigarettes set maximum nicotine yields for devices, prohibit advertising and sponsorship, require specific warnings and impose a six-month notification period for any new product introduced to the market.

‘While in the UK some organisations have said this directive will limit the harm reduction potential of e-cigarettes, at The Union we take an international view,’ said Dr Latif. ‘Because the EU has taken a strong lead on this contentious issue it will assist low- and middle-income countries to develop similar policies of their own, protecting public health first and foremost.’

Florence Berteletti, Director of the Smoke-Free Partnership said: ‘The Court decision is excellent news for public health. The TPD has the potential to save millions of lives in the future by preventing smoking among children and young people. With the legal uncertainties out of the way, it is now high time for European countries to step up the implementation of this crucial act as of its entry into force in just over two weeks’ time.’

The Union has worked with the Smoke-Free Partnership since 2009, primarily on revisions of the EU Tobacco Tax Directive and illicit trade.

Read the European Court of Justice press release here.

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