Updated 27 November 2018

New tobacco laws and crackdown on e-cigarettes in EU

The European Union's top court has approved new rules requiring plain cigarette packs, banning menthol cigarettes and regulating the electronic cigarette market.

The European Union's top court has dealt a blow to the tobacco industry by approving sweeping new rules that will require plain cigarette packs, ban menthol cigarettes and regulate the growing electronic cigarette market.

Standardised, plain labels

Tobacco companies like Philip Morris had protested a 2014 EU directive on the new rules, calling it disproportionate. But the European Court of Justice upheld the directive, arguing it's in line with efforts to stop smoking and protect public health.

The the Luxembourg-based court said it is OK to ban menthol and other flavourings that make tobacco more appealing. The directive also requires standardised, plain labels that cover at least 65 percent of all cigarette packs with health warnings.

Read: Cigarette warnings help smokers quit

The rules will require warnings for e-cigarettes, limit their nicotine levels to 20 grams and restrict advertising and sponsorship by their makers.

EU laws stating that standardised health warnings with a colour photograph must cover 65 percent of the front and back of cigarette packets are due to come into force at the end of this month, while the menthol ban will start from 2020.

A variety of opinions

The Independent British Vape Trade Association said in a statement that it is disappointed by the ruling and argued it could push some e-cigarette smokers back to tobacco.

Read: The dangers of e-cigarettes

Among those welcoming the decision was French Health Minister Marisol Touraine, who said plain cigarette packs will be required in France starting May 20.

Marc Firestone, senior vice president at Philip Morris International, which had questioned the directive's legality, said in a statement that the court didn't address whether plain packaging is legal or reduces smoking rates.

The European Commissioner for Health, Vytenis Andriukaitis, said the ruling would protect Europeans from the "terrible consequences tobacco causes".

Philip Morris and BAT had argued that the rules distorted the EU's single market and undercut consumer choice.

But the EU court upheld the union's insistence that cigarette packaging should not "promote a tobacco product or encourage its consumption".

Ruling was expected

The court also rejected Poland's appeal against the ban on flavoured cigarettes, including menthol cigarettes.

Romania had backed Poland's case.

The EU court further rejected a challenge against regulations on electronic cigarettes, including cross-border sales within the bloc, which was brought by a firm in Britain.

Read: WHO: Ban indoor use of e-cigarettes

"Submitting electronic cigarettes to a notification scheme does not seem manifestly inappropriate," the court said.

The rulings had been expected as the senior lawyer to the EU court had said in December that the new laws were "proportionate".

Read more:

Plain packaging reduces the appeal of smoking

Govt aims to stub out tobacco branding

UN report on e-cigarettes an overreaction?