European Union approves ban on tobacco advertising

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The 15-nation European Union on Monday outlawed tobacco ads in newspapers and magazines, on the Internet and at international sporting events beginning in 2005.

The new restrictions were approved by 13 EU nations, which was enough to push through the bill drawn up by the EU's executive Commission after a court struck down an earlier ban. Britain and Germany opposed them.

The rules already were approved by the EU parliament.

"This is another nail in the coffin of the tobacco industry," EU Health Commissioner David Byrne said.

More than 500,000 Europeans die of tobacco-related diseases each year, and advertising plays a crucial role in encouraging tobacco smoking, the EU says.

'A huge step forward'

"Citizens are fed up with the tobacco industry promoting its deadly product," Byrne said.

Denmark Health Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who chaired the meeting, said, "We have taken a huge step forward toward a strong common policy protecting the public from the promotion of tobacco products."

Germany opposed the measure because it wanted fewer restrictions on advertising in the written press. Britain, however, said the new rules were too weak and too vague.

"The tobacco industry has succeeded in delaying and defeating European efforts to ban tobacco advertising once," said British Health Secretary Alan Milburn.

Japan Tobacco Inc., which owns the Camel and Winston brands, said the new rules might be challenged in court.

"We don't think the text as adopted complies with the court decision," company spokesman Fabio Marchetti said.

Philip Morris Corp. declined to comment, saying it had not yet seen the text of the EU agreement.

The EU Commission said the regulations approved Monday would withstand further challenges in the EU's high court. Nations have 50 days to decide whether to appeal.

Most measures will become law in 2005, while a ban on sponsorship of major international sporting events will take effect a year later.

Currently, tobacco companies are banned from advertising and sponsoring programs on television in the European Union.

The rules still allow tobacco companies to advertise in cinemas, on billboards and posters or through indirect ads, such as on clothing, something the previous proposal sought to ban.

Under the new rules, the companies also cannot distribute tobacco products for free as a promotion.

The rules adopted Monday are considered economic rules meant to ensure fair competition, so they only required majority support from EU members.