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Tobacco guns for European legislation

FOUR British-based tobacco companies last week won the right to challenge the European legislation banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship at the High Court in London. The case - brought by Rothmans, Gallaher, British╩American╩Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco - will now go forward to the European Court of Justice. The companies are arguing that the legislation has no legal basis as under European law health matters are left to individual governments rather than being dictated by the European Commission in Brussels.

If the legislation is overturned by the European Court of Justice tobacco companies will be free to advertise in countries which do not have bans and will also be able to make special arrangements with individual governments. In April the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee declared the legislation to be illegal but this did not stop the legislation being passed a month later.

It had been thought that the German government would lead the attack against the law but the defeat of Chancellor╩Helmut╩Kohl in September changed the political landscape in Germany and the new government has been hinting that it will not oppose the legislation.

The British companies had to go to the High Court before the case could go to Europe and were opposed by the British╩Government. Health Secretary Frank Dobson challenged the right of the courts to refer the question to the European court before it had become law in Britain but his argument was rejected by the judge who ruled that it was in everyone's interest to know as quickly as possible whether the European legislation will stand up.

Anti-smoking campaigners said they were not surprised by the High Court decision but criticized the tobacco companies for fighting for their right to advertise.

"The tobacco industry needs to accept that we live in a democracy," said Clive Bates of Action on Smoking and Health, "and that the government and Europe have decided to try and safeguard health by attempting to ban this harmful advertising."

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