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TPD reaction: MEP tobacco vote 'puts health first
15/10/13
Parliament Magazine

Despite an 'intense lobbying effort' from the tobacco industry, the European parliament has voted for stricter measures on tobacco products, to protect health and discourage young people from smoking.

The new tobacco products directive, adopted in plenary on Tuesday, requires all tobacco packets to carry a health warning covering 65 per cent of their surface, for flavoured tobacco to be banned and for electronic cigarettes to be considered a regular tobacco product unless they claim what the approved text refers to as “curative or preventive properties”.

Rapporteur on the directive Linda McAvan praised the European parliament, saying that it had “lived up to the expectations of our citizens and did not give in to the strong pressure from the tobacco lobbies, who have been frenetically trying to influence our vote and to delay any new legislation. We chose to put the health of future generations first.”

According to commission figures, 700,000 smokers die from tobacco consumption every year in Europe, and the bloc has a higher percentage of smokers than any other world region.

The UK MEP explained, “We are not telling Europeans what to do, but we don't want the industry to mislead the young. We want tobacco products that look and taste like tobacco. There won't be any more lipstick- or perfume-style cigarettes packets.

“On eCigarettes, I believe they can play an important role in helping smokers cut down or quit smoking, but they need proper regulation.” However, she conceded, “I proposed to tackle them as a medicinal product, but the majority in this house decided to propose to regulate it as a tobacco-related product.

“My main concern is to address an important public health problem in Europe and to stop any tricks from the industry to make tobacco particularly attractive to children and teenagers,” the S&D deputy concluded.

ECR group chair Martin Callanan, who tabled the amendment for electronic cigarettes to be treated in a manner similar to ordinary tobacco, said, “Forcing eCigs off the shelves would have been totally crazy.

“These are products that have helped countless people stop smoking more harmful cigarettes and yet some MEPs wanted to make them harder to manufacture than ordinary tobacco.

“Many electronic cigarettes are produced by small businesses who would simply not have been able to afford the strict authorisation demands the EU would place on them. We could not stand by and allow MEPs to put companies out of business and people out of work.

He continued, “It makes sense to find ways of making tobacco less attractive to younger people. Although some of the measures seemed on the zealous end of the scale we are willing to accept them, but we could not have supported a measure that would cost jobs and push people off of electronic cigarettes and back onto the real thing.”

ALDE spokesperson on the directive Frédérique Ries said that “common sense” had prevailed, and although she would have preferred “stricter measures” overall the outcome is “good news for health protection”.

EPP spokesperson on the directive Karl-Heinz Florenz also argued that “as representatives of the citizens, we need to protect health and young people”.

“People want stricter measures, and scientists and health organisations do recommend them. The new tobacco products directive will be finalised next year despite the intensive and tough lobbying of the tobacco industry which was aimed at delaying and frustrating the decision making”, explained Florenz.

GUE/NGL MEP Kartika Liotard said that the vote was a “victory for public health over the intense lobbying efforts MEPs have been subjected to”.

She criticised the tobacco industry, saying, “700,000 deaths in the EU from smoking every year is a terribly high figure. But the tobacco industry prefers to put forward other figures, its profit figures.”

She highlighted that, “The aim of this directive is to prevent young people from taking up smoking. The directive is not a ban on smoking and it won't take away jobs. It simply focuses on public health.

“We shouldn't have any additives or substitute products that could encourage people to start smoking.”

Meanwhile, Northern Irish deputy Martina Anderson argued, “The aims of the tobacco industry can never be reconciled with those of public health and the measures proposed by this directive can reduce the number of people who smoke in the EU by 2.4 million.

“We must stop the tobacco industry from using attractive gimmicks to lure young people to their deadly product.”

Anderson also suggested that the directive could create a net increase in jobs due to increased disposable income spent on other goods and services.

“This would have a positive impact on the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Europe where the rate of smoking related deaths is double that of the least deprived areas,” she explained.

However, Swedish deputy Carl Schlyter was considerably less positive about the outcome, saying, “This is a shameful day for the European parliament, as a centre-right majority, led by the EPP group, has done the bidding of the tobacco industry and voted for weaker rules, which are totally at odds with citizens' interests and public health.

“It is scandalous that the centre-right in this house seems to be more concerned about the profits of the tobacco industry than the health of EU citizens,” he added.

“[Parliament's] public health committee voted for robust legislation, with a view to tackling the number one killer in the EU… but the core proposals have been scaled back.

“The only real victors from [Tuesday's] vote are big tobacco firms, whose aggressive and expensive lobbying campaigns have paid off,” he concluded.

Parliament and council will begin negotiations on the final wording of the directive this autumn, and it is expected to come into force in 2014.