OSLO A Norwegian law banning cigarette displays in stores could set an international precedent when a legal challenge by tobacco giant Philip Morris resumes in December, a Norwegian newspaper said.
Government attorney Kjetil Boe Moen said Norway's law requiring most stores to hide their cigarettes
remained strong after an ambiguous opinion two weeks ago by a European Free Trade Association (EFTA) court, newspaper Nationen said on Tuesday.
Philip Morris has sued Norway's Ministry of Health and Care Services in the Oslo District Court, claiming the 2009 prohibition violates free trade principles that bind Norway as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA).
As part of the case, the Oslo court asked the EFTA court for an advisory ruling that was issued on Sept. 12.
The tribunal in Luxembourg said restrictions to protect health were permitted under EEA rules, but that Norway's display ban might be a violation if less draconian measures would achieve the same goal.
Philip Morris took the opinion as support for its challenge.
"Now the state must prove that the measure is necessary in the sense that other, less restrictive measures would not have at least as good effect," Nordan Helland, Philip Morris Norway's communications director, told Nationen.
Norway is not a member of the European Union but its membership in the EEA -- along with Iceland and Liechtenstein -- requires it to follow most EU trade rules in exchange for market access for Norwegian exports.
(Reporting by Oslo newsroom; Editing by Erica Billingham)