Borg, EU health ministers push Parliament to adopt tobacco directive

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This article is part of our special report Resilient and innovative EU health systems.

SPECIAL REPORT / The EU's health Commissioner Tonio Borg said he was "confident" that the European Parliament would adopt the highly-debated tobacco directive in Strasbourg this week, after the first vote had been delayed. 

Speaking at the Gastein European Health Forum in Austria last Friday (4 October), the commissioner said he was looking forward to start the negotiations on the tobacco directive, hoping it would be adopted under the current Parliament, whose term expires in April 2014. 

"I'm confident that a mandate will be given to the Parliament rapporteur Mrs McAvan [British MEP, Socialists & Democrats] to start negotiations with governments on the tobacco directive," Borg said, adding that the aim of the directive would be to reduce the number of smokers in the EU by 2.4 million, or 2% over the next five years.

"I think we can achieve this. The tobacco directive will help us as a force though there are other means of restricting tobacco consumption," Borg told the conference. 

Today (8 October), the European Parliament will vote on whether a pictorial health warning covering 75% of a cigarette package, front and back, should be mandatory across the EU. MEPs will also consider regulating the increasingly popular e-cigarettes and banning slim cigarettes aimed at young women.

The Parliament was supposed to vote on the tobacco directive on 10 September, but leaders of the main centre-right political groups in the Parliament, the European People's Party (EPP), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the European Conservatives and Reformist Group (ECR), colluded to postpone the vote until 8 October.

Improving health

On Friday, health ministers from 16 member states also joined the chorus and called on MEPs to agree to start talks as soon as possible with a view to reaching agreement by the end of the year. 

The health ministers from Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK said they are "particularly concerned" about the number of children and young people who continue to be attracted to tobacco products and become addicted with great consequences for their health.

The ministers added that treating patients with tobacco related illness was a massive, but avoidable cost for public health systems in times of austerity.

The first tobacco control legislation in the EU was introduced in the 1980s. Since then, EU legislation and policy has been further developed in the areas of product regulation, advertising and protecting people from second-hand smoke, as well as prevention.

Health Commissioner Tonio Borg is set to widen the scope of cigarette-trading rules to cover potentially harmful electronic cigarettes, flavourings and potentially marketing strategies, including plain packaging, as part of a revision of the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive.

  • 8 Oct.: Parliament to vote on revised tobacco legislation.

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