Brussels health lobbyists are calling for stronger measures to protect public health in the wake of the European Court of Justice's decision to cancel the tobacco advertising ban covering all 15 EU members.
English public health minister Yvette Cooper said the ruling was 'disappointing' but insisted the government would fulfil its manifesto commitment to ban tobacco advertising. She said it was considering primary legislation to bring in a ban, although it would still like to see action at European level.
The International Union against Cancer and the Association of European Cancer Leagues expressed 'dismay' at the outcome of the court action and called for the European Commission to bring forward new proposals.
They also called for new provisions to be adopted in the EU treaty, the community's legal framework, to protect similar public health measures.
The Luxembourg court ruled that the EU had no power to implement the directive banning the advertising and promotion of tobacco products, originally agreed in 1998 by both the European parliament and Council of EU health ministers.
The tobacco advertising ban was agreed on the basis of the EU Treaty provision relating to the internal market and not that for protecting public health.
The internal market rules were used because, unlike those for public health, they include the power to 'harmonise' different EU member states' laws. But the court upheld a legal opinion that the use of the internal market provisions was 'inappropriate. '
However, seven EU countries, including Ireland, already have bans and a further three - the UK, Netherlands and Denmark - are planning to introduce their own legislation. The Dutch hope to have a ban in force before the end of the year.
British anti-smoking campaign group Action on Smoking and Health is calling for a ban in the next session of Parliament.
A Department of Health spokesman said it could not predict the content of November's Queen's Speech but a tobacco advertising ban was a high priority.
The German government and four UK tobacco manufacturers - Imperial Tobacco, BAT, Rothmans UK and Gallagher mounted challenges in the EU court.
The British chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association David Swan said that his organisation was vindicated by the 'watershed' decision.