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Tobacco Firms Fight EU Picture Health Warning

The world's biggest tobacco companies have made a legal bid to have new EU picture health warnings and a ban on menthol cigarettes overturned.

Philip Morris International (Xetra: A0NDBJ - news) (PMI) and British American Tobacco (LSE: BATS.L - news) (BAT), with support from other companies including Imperial Tobacco (LSE: IMT.L - news) and Japan Tobacco International, launched the legal action in London.

The bid questions the legality of the new EU Tobacco Products Directive, which aims to cut the number of smokers in Europe.

Sitting in London, high court judge Mr Justice Turner referred the case to the Court of Justice of the EU, after hearing legal argument.

Earlier this year the EU reforms were voted in by the European Parliament, making it compulsory to have the picture health warnings covering 65% of front and back packaging.

The directive also calls for a ban on small "lipstick-style" packs aimed at women, halting claims about "additive-free" tobacco being better for smokers, and menthol cigarettes being outlawed.

Cancer charities have backed the EU measure, amid an an estimated 700,000 premature deaths in the bloc each year.

But critics counter the claim and insist the new rules represent a "nanny state mentality".

Europe's highest court will now be asked to rule in judicial review applications and decide if the EU has misused its powers to legislate for tobacco, and whether its actions are "proportionate".

The court's review process could take in excess of 24 months to complete.

The European Commission hopes the new rules will "deter young people from experimenting with, and becoming addicted to, tobacco" and see the number of smokers drop by 2% in the next five years.

The tobacco companies said legal action was filed in England as it allows for "fast and efficient forum for private litigants" to reach the European courts.

PMI senior vice president Marc Firestone said the London court's referral decision "marks an important first step" in the legal battle.

He added: "We believe the directive disrupts the balance that the EU treaties establish between the Union and the member states, and we are looking forward to a thorough, objective review by the EU's highest court."

Mr Firestone said there was no disagreement that tobacco products should be strictly regulated, "but measures must honour the EU treaties".

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