Borg signals compromise possible on tobacco additives

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EXCLUSIVE / The Commissioner for health and consumer affairs has signalled that European tobacco producers may include additives in Burley tobacco, offering East European tobacco producers a compromise that could enable them to continue production.

In an interview with EURACTIV, Borg said finding replacement jobs for workers left unable to grow tobacco any more following the introduction of new rules was not the responsibility of his department.

“It is not directly my responsibility,” he said adding: “If you look at the other side: the cost to health systems and the loss to the economy resulting from tobacco use are huge.”

Borg is the successor to John Dalli, who resigned last year in the midst of an anti-fraud investigation linked to industry lobbying over the revision of the EU's Tobacco Products Directive.

Nevertheless Borg signaled that one possible area for compromise lay in the issue of additives, which would be curtailed under the new rules.

European states such as Romania, Bulgaria and Portugal retain significant Burley tobacco production.

Burley tobacco needs more additives than Virginia

In August 2011, Hermanus Versteijlen, director of the economics of agricultural markets at the European Commission, told EURACTIV that the rules forbidding the addition of sugars and flavours to Burley tobacco could result in comparably large losses to the European market.

"Because the main competitor to Burley – Virginia tobacco – does not lose sugar during the drying process, and therefore requires fewer additives," Versteijlen explained.

Borg acknowledged in the interview that “there are certain questions which need to be clarified to allay certain fears”.

“For example characterising flavours in tobacco products will be prohibited, but not all flavours or additives will be prohibited. So the fear that certain tobacco would be prohibited because you cannot add to them is not correct,” the commissioner said, directly addressing the fears of burley producers.

“The definitions of [additives] will be determined by experts appointed within the individual member states, and supervised by the Commission. There we can find compromises so long as there is a basic understanding that tobacco should look and taste like tobacco,” he said.

Borg acknowledged that he anticipated resistance to the tobacco directive update, saying “it is criticised by those who say we have gone too far, and by those who want us to go further”.

"We are in the middle of the road, which means it is a reasonable, balanced proposal”, he added, saying that jobs will also be created by the savings resulting from the new rules.

Horsemeat and labelling

On the horsemeat scandal, Borg said: “It is not a health or food safety issue but one of food labeling. It is a serious breach; but it is a labelling infringement.”

Borg said that the Commission would endeavour to complete a report on food labelling – which it had begun conducting before the scandal broke – as soon as possible and before the end of the year.

“The question is whether all other animal products should be labelled for origin, but this horsemeat scandal would have happened just the same because it was a false labelling issue, a fraud,” the Commissioner said.

Borg said tighter penalties for the horsemeat fraud ought to reflect the effects of their actions across the whole single market.

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 marketing strategies – potentially including plain packaging – as part of a revision of the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive.

  • 2013: Tobacco directive update to be debated by European Parliament and European Council

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