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Advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products (print media, radio, information society)

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Advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products (print media, radio, information society)

This Directive is intended to prohibit, at European Union level, tobacco advertising in print media, radio broadcasting, and information society services and the sponsorship, with a view to promoting tobacco products, of events with a cross-border effect.


Directive 2003/33/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 May 2003 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States relating to the advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products.



The Directive aims to harmonise the Member States' laws on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products. It does not cover indirect advertising, monitoring of tobacco companies’ advertising expenditure, or vending machines. These issues are addressed in a Council recommendation. Nor does it address the question of television advertising; this is covered by the Television without Frontiers Directive, which prohibits all forms of television advertising for cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Prohibition and limitation of tobacco product advertising

In general terms, the advertising of tobacco products is prohibited in:

  • the print media (newspapers and other publications);
  • information society services;
  • radio broadcasting.

It remains limited to publications intended exclusively for professionals in the tobacco trade and publications which are published and printed in third countries and are not principally intended for the Community market.


Sponsorship of radio programmes, events or cross-border activities with the aim or effect of promoting tobacco products is prohibited. The free distribution of tobacco products as sponsorship of such events is also prohibited.

However, the sponsorship of events or activities with no cross-border effect is not covered by this Directive.


The Member States must lay down the effective and proportional rules on penalties applicable to non-compliance with the national provisions adopted pursuant to this Directive.


The Commission has created an informal liaison group comprising civil servants from Member States on publicity promoting tobacco. It facilitates the exchange of good practice and information on implementing the Directive.

At national level, the implementation of the Directive depends on public authorities, but also the direct right of recourse of non-governmental organisations.


Following the Directive adopted in June 2001 on the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products, the present Directive forms another part of the comprehensive tobacco control policy being actively pursued by the European Community.

The approximation of national laws relating to the promotion of tobacco ensures a high level of health protection. Tobacco is responsible for more than 650 000 deaths in the European Community every year.

In addition, this approximation eliminates the risks of distorting competition in the internal market which could be caused by national differences in the advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products.

This Directive replaces Directive 98/43/EC of 6 July 1998, which was annulled by the Court of Justice in Case C-376/98 on 5 October 2000 on the grounds that some of its provisions were not consistent with the legal basis for its adoption. Following a request by Germany, the Court ruled, contrary to what the legislator had maintained, that the Directive was not intended to facilitate the establishment of the internal market. In the Court’s view, the main aim was to protect public health, which, with few exceptions, remains the responsibility of the Member States. The Court of Justice confirmed in their Case C-380/03 on 12 December 2006 that Directive 2003/33/EC is the applicable legal base.

The European Community contributes to establishing international guidelines against advertising coming from third countries. A Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was adopted in May 2003 by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This first international treaty negotiated under the aegis of the WHO establishes binding international rules complementary to the provisions of this Directive.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2003/33/EC



OJ L 152 of 20.6.2003


Directive 2001/37/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 June 2001 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products. This Directive concerns the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products in the Member States of the EU, in particular the use of warnings on packets, the prohibition of descriptions such as ‘mild’ or ‘light’, the maximum tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide yields, and the prohibition of tobacco for oral use.

Council Recommendation 2003/54/EC of 2 December 2002 on the prevention of smoking and on initiatives to improve tobacco control [Official Journal L 22 of 21.01.2003]. The aim of this recommendation is to encourage Member States to improve tobacco control, with particular emphasis on the prevention of smoking among children and adolescents.

Last updated: 18.05.2011