cigarette packages
How the UK's new plain cigarette packaging could look Department of Health

A claim made by big tobacco companies against plans to standardise tobacco packaging in the UK has been dismissed by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Wednesday (4 May). The ECJ clarified that EU member states can introduce further requirements on the packaging of tobacco products.

A prohibition of "any element or feature that is such as to promote a tobacco product or encourage its consumption" on tobacco packaging is considered protecting consumers from the risks of tobacco consumption "even if these are factually accurate", said the court's ruling.

The ruling means that standardised packaging for cigarettes should come in from 20 May, though another challenge in the High Court, due to be ruled on on 18 May, may halt the plans or lead to further delay if there is an appeal from the tobacco industry.

In 2015 parliament passed laws on standardised tobacco packaging in the UK − originally slated for 20 May. However, with or without legal delays, the new packaging may not be seen until old stocks are sold out. The packaging will likely simply show the brand name and product variant.

The ECJ ruling also upheld rules banning advertising by e-cigarette companies. The Independent British Vape Trade Association struck out immediately, claiming that the regulations could force e-cigarette users back to smoking regular tobacco products:

"The Tobacco Products Directive will have a significant impact on our sector as higher strength e-liquids and larger tanks are removed from the market, almost all advertising is banned, manufacturers and importers have to comply with a costly and bureaucratic notification process, and free trade across the EU is hampered. At the very least, this will force some vapers back to smoking and cause a number of smaller businesses to close."