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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tobacco Industry Attempts to Subvert European Union Tobacco Advertising Legislation


Beginning with the Europe Against Cancer Action Program in 1985, the European Economic Community (EEC), which was later renamed the European Community (EC) with its incorporation into the new European Union (EU) in 1992, began to seriously consider tobacco product regulation to fight tobacco-related illness on a pan-European scale.

A key element of the EC’s policy was a directive intended initially to restrict, and later to end, tobacco advertising and sponsorship in the Community.

The Directive was introduced by the European Commission in 1989, and was adopted nine years later, in 1998.

In 2001, the directive was annulled following litigation brought by the Republic of Germany in the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Previously secret tobacco industry documents indicate that the tobacco industry lobbied politicians and used third party organizations in an organized attempt to weaken or defeat the Advertising Directive.

The tobacco industry efforts involved figures at the highest levels of European politics, including former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, former British Secretary of State Kenneth Clarke, and former European Commissioner Martin Bangemann.

A large degree of the industry’s effort to influence EC policy focused on lobbying government officials and industrial groups within a number of key EC member states, including Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, and Denmark. The tobacco industry viewed Germany as a strong and consistent ally of the tobacco industry in its attempts to defeat the Advertising Directive within the EC and through litigation at the level of the European Court of Justice.

The tobacco industry engaged in a number of practices to conceal its role, particularly the formulation and introduction of an industry-authored minimum harmonization proposal intended to replace the EC Draft Directive without disclosing the industry’s role in preparing the draft.. The documents suggest the involvement of Martin Bangemann and the German delegation to the European Commission in introducing the tobacco industry’s proposal without disclosing its source.

The fight for an effective pan-European advertising ban continued with the EC Draft Directive on Advertising and Sponsorship proposed in Spring 2001. The new draft seeks to eliminate provisions that rendered the earlier Advertising Directive inconsistent with EC jurisdiction. A thorough knowledge of previous industry tactics and strategies can help advocates of strong EC public health legislation overcome obstacles that have so far hindered the implementation of an effective EC Tobacco Advertising Directive.

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