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Brussels, 21 March 2007

Excise duties: Minimum retail prices for cigarettes

The European Commission has decided to take France to the Court of Justice for fixing minimum retail prices for cigarettes. The Commission takes the view, based on well-established case law of the Court of Justice of the European Communities, that such prices infringe Community law, distort competition and benefit only manufacturers, by safeguarding their profit margins. To achieve the objective of reducing tobacco consumption, the Commission advocates increasing the excise duty on cigarettes. It has also decided to close the infringement proceeding against Belgium, since the latter has brought its legislation into line in accordance with the Commission’s official request of 4 July 2006 ( IP/06/866).

The Commission recognizes that price and tax measures are effective means for reducing tobacco consumption. Such measures must, however, be in line with obligations under Community law.

In this respect, the Court of Justice of the European Communities has already ruled that:

  • imposing minimum prices is incompatible with the current legal framework (Article 9(1) of Directive 95/59/EC), since the setting, by the public authorities, of such prices inevitably has the effect of limiting the freedom of producers and importers to determine their selling prices (see in particular Case C-302/00 Commission v France);
  • minimum prices are not necessary, since the public health objectives may be attained by increased taxation of tobacco products (Case C-216/98 Commission v Greece).

The Commission fully supports Member States in designing measures on tobacco control in order to ensure a high level of public health protection.

Among the measures that could be used, the European Commission advocates an increase in excise duty and minimum taxes to tackle cigarette consumption. This would have the same impact on prices and would not hamper price competition to the sole benefit of manufacturers, as is shown by the case of Belgium, which has amended its legislation to comply with Community law and achieved a dissuasive increase in the price of tobacco.

The reference number of the Commission case is: 2005/2003.

For the latest information on infringement proceedings, go to:

Further information on current legislation on tobacco products is available at:

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