Philip Morris, maker of iconic brands such as Marlboro, and the Polish government had lodged appeals against a tobacco directive adopted by the 28-nation European Union in 2014.
Rejecting a challenge by tobacco giant Philip Morris and others, the EU's top court ruled that the bloc's new laws on plain tobacco packaging and a ban on menthol cigarettes were legal.
‘Plain packaging was needed to protect consumers against the risks associated with tobacco use and does not go beyond what is necessary.’
"The new EU directive on tobacco products is valid," the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice said. "The extensive standardisation of packaging, the future EU-wide prohibition on menthol cigarettes and the special rules for electronic cigarettes are lawful."
The rules are due to take effect from 2020 across the EU, which has a population of more than 500 million people. Philip Morris, along with British American Tobacco, had lodged a case in the British courts criticising the plain packaging requirement which eliminates manufacturers' branding and product claims in favour of dominant health warnings.
The company argued that the rules distorted the EU's single market and undercut consumer choice. But the court upheld the EU's insistence that packaging should not "promote a tobacco product or encourage its consumption". It said plain packaging was needed to "protect consumers against the risks associated with tobacco use and does not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve the objective pursued".
Similarly, EU rules saying that health warnings with a colour photograph must cover 65 percent of the front and back of cigarette packets "did not go beyond the limits of what is appropriate and necessary". The court meanwhile rejected Poland's appeal against the ban on flavoured cigarettes, including menthol cigarettes. Romania had backed Poland's case.
Flavoured cigarettes were a key factor in "initiating tobacco consumption and sustaining tobacco use", the court said, asserting that "menthol, by its pleasant flavour, makes tobacco products more attractive to consumers". 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.
"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". There was no immediate reaction to the ruling from Philip Morris, British American Tobacco or Poland.