The new 2014 directive (1) lays down rules on the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products with a view to assure a high level of public health. It provides for new regulations regarding health warnings, bans flavours and slim packaging, sets safety and quality rules for electronic cigarettes.
Just as the United Kingdom, France decided to introduce further requirements concerning the standardisation of the packaging of tobacco products and opted for plain packaging (2). Government decree No.2016-334 of 21 March 2016 related to plain tobacco packaging came into force on 20 May 2016, although it provides for a six-month period for the sale of already manufactured tobacco products which do not comply with the new regulations.
While the debate was over pretty soon in France, the directive was challenged by Poland and Romania as regards the prohibition of menthol cigarettes and several questions on the validity of the directive were referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union by the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, Queen’s Bench Division (Administrative Court), originally submitted by Pillbox, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco.
Let’s observe that the High Court of Justice of England and Wales will not refer many more questions to the Court of Justice of the EU, the United Kingdom being a future former Member State of the EU as a consequence of Brexit (3).
With three judgments dated 4 May 2016 (cases C-358/14, C-477/14 and C-547/14), the Court of Justice of the EU dismissed Poland’s action and confirmed the validity of the challenged provisions of the directive.
The Court stated that the new regulations were justified since there were significant divergences between the regulatory systems of the Member States. It further considered that they were appropriate for ensuring a high level of protection of human health and that they did not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve the objective pursued.
Public health was thus a stronger cause than the industrial and commercial interests of tobacco manufacturers.
(1) Directive 2014/40/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 April 2014 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products and repealing Directive 2001/37/EC.
(2) See our article on plain packaging of April 2015.
(3) See our article on the future of EU IP titles in the UK.