Thursday

3rd Dec 2020

Belgian judge seeks EU-wide ban on cigarette sales

  • Fancy a smoke? Mr Hubaux says smoking will kill more people than World War II by 2050 (Photo: lanier67)

The EU court in Luxembourg has lodged two anti-smoking cases which could, in theory, lead to a ban on the sale of tobacco products across the EU.

The two complaints, entitled "Rossius C267/10" and "Collard C268/10," lodged in Luxembourg on 28 May, call for the EU to ban the sale of cigarettes and the collection of excise duties on tobacco products in Belgium.

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They also ask the court to examine if the sale of tobacco products goes against the Lisbon Treaty, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the UN's 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Baudouin Hubaux, a Belgian anti-smoking campaigner and a judge at the regional court in Namur, Belgium, who referred the cases to Luxembourg, told Belgian press the best outcome would be for the court to ban cigarettes across the union or, at the least, to set out the financial liability of tobacco companies for damages to people's health.

Mr Hubaux' statement of reasoning, as submitted to Luxembourg, was published in the Belgian daily, La Derniere Heure, on 3 June.

"Future historians who will explore the 20th century will surely be surprised at the timidity of measures against smoking," it says. "If we fail to reduce consumption, smoking will kill 520 million people worldwide between 1950 and 2050, 10 times more than the Second World War."

The EU tribunal will now consider whether the case is admissible. If it goes ahead, the court will appoint a rapporteur and advocate general and table hearings leading to a judgment some 17 months down the line.

The Lisbon Treaty recently clarified existing case law that the EU court has primacy over member states' legislation.

The Brussels-based lobby firm, EUK Consulting, said its client, British American Tobacco (BAT), is "urgently" looking into the case but is unwilling to make a statement based on media reports only.

Another Brussels-based lobbying outfit, BXL Consulting, reacted negatively.

"It's much more complex than just to expect that a ban would materialise and be implemented and would not on the other hand contribute to illegal trafficking, production and so on. Such a measure does not have a chance to succeed," the firm's founder, Pavel Telicka, told this website.

Mr Telicka, the Czech republic's former EU health commissioner, pointed out that BXL Consulting does not represent BAT, but said that he has in the recent past "mediated and facilitated a dialogue between BAT and stakeholders, including the [EU] institutions."

BAT itself has a large office in Brussels.

A senior contact at a major Brussels-based PR firm told this website that tobacco sector lobbying is part of normal life in Brussels, but is a more sensitive matter in Luxembourg.

"The rule is to avoid being perceived by the Court as 'wanting to use the court of public opinion' instead of their sacred office," the PR contact said. "'Strategic communication' is employed, with the objective of never bothering the Court actually. It is very hard to achieve. One way is to get credible third-parties to discuss your case in a variety of countries, media and events."

The EU commission, which has in the past launched a number of soft anti-smoking initiatives, such as a ban on advertising, estimates that smoking costs the EU economy €2.5 billion a year in terms of healthcare and productivity losses and brings in €67 billion a year in terms of tobacco industry revenue.

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