EU ministers and parliament reach deal on tobacco directive

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MEPs and national governments agreed on Monday (16 December) a provisional deal for a new Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). But e-cigarettes continue to divide policy-makers.

The main points of the agreement include warning labels including photos covering 65% of the front and rear packaging, a ban on flavoured cigarettes and more detailed reporting on tobacco products' ingredients.

E-cigarettes will continue to be available on the market and not be restricted to pharmacies. But EU ministers have not resolved the issue of the refilling devices, which they continue discussing in the coming days.

The tobacco directive was originally aimed at discouraging younger people from taking up smoking."

"While the proposed tobacco products legislation could and should have been much more ambitious, we recognise the limits of European policy making and commend those MEPs, ministers and European Commission officials who have worked hard in the face of massive resistance to protect the health of European citizens," said professor Jean-Paul Sculier of the European Respiratory Society.

"For me the key of the new directive and the single most effective measure is that there will be an obligation for combined picture and text health warnings to cover 65% of the front and the back of packages of tobacco products for smoking,” Sculier added.

Karl-Heinz Florenz, in charge of the TPD for the European People's Party (EPP) group, said MEPs had done what people have expected, by tightening up the tobacco law to ensure maximum health protection.

"Tobacco products ought to be as little attractive to young people as possible. The number of young smokers is still unacceptably high. This is why the packaging can no longer serve to promote tobacco products or play down the health risks. The message must be clear: hands off such addictive substances! Health and youth protection must be paramount," Florenz said.

Martin Callanan, from the European Conservatives and Reformists group, called the regulation on e-cigarettes "perverse".

"This is a perverse decision that risks sending more people back to real, more harmful, cigarettes," Callanan said.

"Refillable e-cigarettes would almost certainly be banned, and only the weakest products will be generally available. As many smokers begin on stronger e-cigs and gradually reduce their dosage, making stronger e-cigs harder to come across will encourage smokers to stay on tobacco," he added.

“The TPD has been negotiated hastily, pushed by political agendas, with little consideration given to the effectiveness of the numerous measures and the cost entailed for EU member states and businesses. Policies that are not supported by strong evidence and that do not consider market dynamics are bound to fail – they do not deliver any public health benefits," said Ben Townsend, Japan Tobacco International’s head of EU Affairs.

“Europe pays a hefty price for tobacco, both in economic costs and harm to its people’s health and well-being. Today’s decision brings people living in Europe one step closer to tobacco regulation that is fit for purpose and able to protect us from misleading marketing,” said Monika Kosi?ska, secretary general of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), a health group.

“We have good reasons to celebrate," said Florence Berteletti, director of the Smoke Free Partnership.

“As a result of the TPD’s negotiations, the EU will force tobacco companies to make tobacco products less attractive to young people; this is exactly what tobacco companies feared the most and why they deployed such an 'army' against the Tobacco Products Directive over the past 6 years. Yet, they lost. We should note that, without the leadership of the (few) EU policy makers who were brave enough to defend this file, today’s success would not have been possible: those responsible for this dossier proved that values can still win over trade – that health can still win over profits and that the EU can still make a difference to people’s lives in Europe and beyond,” she added.

“We are pleased that an agreement has been reached. The agreement should make it possible for the EU to adopt a piece of legislation which contributes to reducing smoking. We regret that the 75% health warnings proposed by the Commission were not retained by the Parliament and Council. We strongly encourage members states to proceed to adopt plain packaging measures,” said Susanne Løgstrup, director of the European Heart Network.

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.

  • 18 Dec. 2013: Final sign off by the Council of Ministers on the agreement
  • 2014: The EU's tobacco directive set to come into effect

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