Andriukaitis: Anti-smoking laws are of little value if they are not implemented

Andriukaitis: "E-cigarettes are relatively new and the long-term effects on public health are not yet known." [European Commission]

This article is part of our special report World No Tobacco Day.

Member states should prioritise laws that protect public health because there is little value in having them if they are not enforced, the EU’s health Commissioner told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

Vytenis Andriukaitis is EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. He responded in writing to questions by EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos ahead of World No Tobacco Day on 31 May.

What is the current state of play regarding the implementation of the tobacco products directive at national level? Have all member states effectively complied with the new rules?

The vast majority of member states (25) have notified full transposition of the Directive. The Commission is currently checking these transposition measures. The Commission also regularly discusses the implementation of the Directive with member states, including in the context of the Expert Group on Tobacco Policy.

One year after, does the Commission have figures regarding tobacco consumption? Do Europeans smoke less as a result?

The 2017 Eurobarometer survey on Europeans’ attitudes towards tobacco is due to be published on the eve of World No Tobacco Day. We do not expect any significant change in smoking rates only one year on.

The new rules have not been in effect long enough, transposition checks are still underway, and don’t forget that manufacturers have been given a 12-month window until May 2017 to use up old stock – which means packs without picture warnings in many member states. The next survey is planned for 2019-2020, which will be the moment to assess the first impact of the Directive.

In countries like Greece, people still smoke in public places, despite a national ban. It’s not a Commission competence, but how does it look like for an EU member state to ignore the implications of passive smoking?

It is true that citizens’ exposure to cigarette smoke in public places varies greatly across the EU and that it is particularly high in some countries like Greece – the extent of the differences will be revealed in next week’s Eurobarometer. From our perspective, there is little value in having laws if they are not enforced.

This is particularly the case with laws that protect public health – we know that the positive effects of properly enforced smoke-free legislation are immediate and include a reduction in the incidence of heart attacks and improvements in respiratory health. We urge countries to make enforcing these laws a priority.

The Commission is committed to continuing working with the member states in their implementation and enforcement of the Council recommendations and also raises this issue in bilateral meetings, as appropriate. The Commission is also monitoring the situation, including citizens’ exposure to smoke in public places through Eurobarometer surveys. It regularly discusses progress in this area with member states’ representatives.

Greek smoking ban ineffective

Nearly nine years after it became law, Greece is still struggling to implement a smoking ban in public spaces.

 

Why does the Commission believe that e-cigarettes should be treated as tobacco products? The industry claims that they are less harmful and help people quit traditional smoking.

E-cigarettes are relatively new and the long-term effects on public health are not yet known. It is still also unclear whether using e-cigarettes can lead to experimentation with other tobacco products.

The Tobacco Products Directive only covers e-cigarettes containing nicotine, a substance that we know is addictive and toxic. The EU has not banned e-cigarettes, but we do believe that it is appropriate under the TPD to include rules on quality and safety requirements as well as on packaging and labelling of e-cigarettes.

Survey reveals most smokers in Southern Europe

Though a new Eurobarometer survey published on Friday (29 May) reveals that more Europeans are quitting tobacco, Southern European countries still have a high number of smokers.

There is an ongoing discussion about the proper track and trace system that would tackle illicit tobacco trade and its wider implications. It seems the Commission is running behind on this file. How do you expect the supply chain to implement an EU-wide system in less than 16 months?

Firstly, according to the indicative timeline published on the Commission’s website, adoption of the relevant secondary legislation is foreseen for the end of 2017. A detailed internal timeline has been prepared (including extensive consultation with stakeholders) and good progress is being made: we are currently on schedule.

I can assure you that the Commission is aware of the concerns of stakeholders in relation to the timeline, and providing adequate time for technical roll-out in the sector has been a top priority for us from the beginning (preparatory work began immediately following the adoption of the TPD). It is for this reason that we are working with such an ambitious deadline, and the Commission is fully committed to doing its utmost to delivering the acts on time.

Given that the main requirements are set out in the TPD itself, stakeholders already have a good indication of the types of technical steps that will need to be taken. It is, therefore, important that they do not wait until the final adoption of the secondary legislation before beginning preparations.

Industry involvement in EU tobacco tracking system divides stakeholders

The involvement of the tobacco industry in an EU-wide track and trace system to tackle smuggling has divided relevant stakeholders.

Is the Commission moving toward a purely third-party system?

First of all, allow me to stress that no final policy decisions have been made and the consultation and preparatory processes are still ongoing. At a recent stakeholder meeting (15 May), the Commission presented a set of preliminarily preferred policy options, which it had identified based on feedback received from its extensive consultation process and internal analysis.

The European Commission recently closed a public consultation on excise duties applied to tobacco, with a view to possibly raising them. The Council seems supportive, saying in March last year that tobacco represents “an avoidable health risk” and that the directive was “an adequate tool for combating this threat”. Does this mean it’s a done deal and excise duties at European level will be raised eventually?

The Commission has not yet taken a position on this matter. DG SANTE is closely monitoring the impact assessment process led by DG TAXUD to ensure that health objectives of Directive 2011/64/EU are taken fully into consideration.

I also remind you that this Directive sets minimum excise rates and in the majority of the member states the actual rates are well above those minimal rates.