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U.K. Tobacco Companies Lose Ad Restriction Challenge

LONDON -- Tobacco companies lost a court fight to overturn new restrictions on advertising in places where cigarettes are sold in Britain, reported the Associated Press.

Justice Richard McCombe of the High Court on Friday rejected the companies' argument that the measure was "draconian" and disproportionate. "Given the enormous health risks and economic costs to society caused by smoking tobacco and a substantial weight of expert opinion as to the effects of advertising, I believe it to have been a responsible and proportionate step," he said.

The restrictions, which come into force Dec. 21, severely limit the number, size, location and content of promotional materials at tobacco "points of sale," including stores, pubs and clubs. The ads must include a prominent health warning.

McCombe gave the companies permission to appeal his decision, saying the case was of "private, public and legal importance."

The manufacturers -- including some of the world's biggest tobacco companies -- had argued that the new rules were an unlawful ban on informing customers about legal products and interfered with their commercial freedom of expression under human rights laws.

The companies' lawsuit was filed by the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, an industry group. Their lawyers told the judge last month that they did not contest the government's wider ban on tobacco advertising.

Tobacco Manufacturers' Association chief Tim Lord said the companies had not yet decided whether to appeal. "We remain very concerned that these regulations will prevent smokers from receiving a reasonable level of information about products," he said in a statement. "However, the companies will work closely with retailers to implement the regulations by the date set."

The plaintiffs were British American Tobacco PLC, Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, Gallaher Group PLC, Philip Morris Ltd. -- the British affiliate of Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris International -- the French company Seita and vending machine operator Cherwell Tobacco.
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