The European Union is considering banning logos on cigarette packs as part of an upcoming review of its law to deter smoking, a spokesman said, a day after Australia's highest court upheld a similar ban.
The Australian court dismissed a legal challenge to the government's ban, in a case filed by British American Tobacco, Britain's Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco.
The ruling means that starting in December; all cigarette packs sold in Australia will brandish plain olive packaging.
The EU will publish a draft revision to its 2001 Tobacco Products Directive in the fall, and may introduce more stringent rules on packaging as well as extend legislation to newer tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes.
"Many things are being discussed, including the possibility of plain packaging," Antonio Gravili, a spokesperson for the European Commission, told a news briefing. Printing larger graphic images on cigarette packs of the diseases linked to smoking is another option, Gravili said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says smoking is "one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced".
It kills but infringes intellectual-property rights
Smoking causes lung cancer, which is often fatal, as well as other chronic respiratory diseases. It is also a major risk factor for heart diseases, the world's number one killers.
The WHO predicts smoking could kill 8 million people every year by 2030 if governments don't take more action to help people quit.
The EU's 2001 Directive required all member states to ensure that cigarette packs carry text health warnings and in 2005 the Commission recommended a series of graphic images to illustrate health risks. Most EU countries have since adopted these pictures.
Once the directive's revision is completed, it will need the approval of the EU's 27 countries and over 700 members of the European Parliament before it can become law.
Anti-smoking lobbies in Brussels say plain packaging could prevent the young from getting hooked because a cigarette brand can become a badge in the same way that sports shoes and mobile phones can.
Tobacco firms say a packaging ban would infringe on their intellectual-property rights and boost sales of fake or illegally imported cigarettes.
Prevent free trade?
In the EU, Britain has worked the most to make plain packaging national law.
The British government finished a four-month consultation on plain packaging last week. It is expected to make a decision on whether to push ahead with legislation this year.
A lawyer who advises companies on the draft legislation said companies could oppose the ban on grounds that it prevents free trade because manufacturers outside Britain would have to change packaging for the British market.
"If there was a European-wide initiative on plain packaging then this would reduce the scope of a challenge," said lawyer Paul Medlicott at law firm Addleshaw Goddard.
Figures from the Global Tobacco Surveillance System, a group set up by the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control; show that Europe has the world's highest rate of smokers aged 13-15.
(Reuters Health, August 2012)
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