EU Blows Smoke on Tobacco

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EU Blows Smoke on Tobacco

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Tobacco companies suffered a major setback Tuesday in their legal bid to overturn strict new European Union provisions legislating manufacture and marketing of cigarettes.

The Advocate General of the EU's highest court rejected arguments by British American Tobacco PLC and Imperial Tobacco Group PLC that the new laws were illegal, the Associated Press reported.

Advocate General Lender Geelhoed ruled that EU authorities were empowered to establish new limits on the levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes sold in the EU and those produced in the 15-nation bloc for export.

The new rules also would affect labeling, requiring the renaming of international powerhouse brands like Marlboro Lights and Camel Lights, as well as European brands such as Austria's Milde Sorte and Portugal's Soave. Further, the measures would ban the use of terms such as "light" and "mild" to describe cigarette brands and require manufactures to place larger and more graphic health warnings on all packets.

Geelhoed's opinion is not binding on the full European Court of Justice, but in about 80 percent of cases the advocate general's advice is followed by the court, which is expected to decide in coming months.

BAT and Imperial, two British tobacco companies, had complained about the rules a year ago to the High Court of Justice in London, but British judges forwarded the case to the EU's high court. Geelhoed said the new rules across the EU were necessary to ensure a level playing field for companies throughout the union.

ABOVE: Canada last year imposed a harsh set of standards for cigarette labeling on packs sold there.