Report: Industry lobbying postponed EU tobacco vote

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Confidential documents, obtained by British newspaper The Guardian, reportedly show that the tobacco industry successfully lobbied in Brussels to get a crucial vote on the EU's new Tobacco Directive postponed.

The documents seen by The Guardian show how Philip Morris International employed 161 people to combat a proposed tobacco products directive, which aims to save lives by forcing cigarette companies to include large pictorial health warnings on tobacco products covering 75% of the front and back of packs.

The directive also includes a ban on all flavoured tobacco products – such as menthol, vanilla and strawberry – and on slim cigarettes, which health experts say are particularly attractive to younger smokers and to women.

New legislation could also lead to e-cigarettes being regulated under pharmaceutical legislation and sold like medicines, which is opposed by new entrants to this potentially lucrative new market.

The parliamentary vote was initially planned for Tuesday (10 September). However, on Thursday last week it emerged that the crucial vote had been postponed by MEPs until 8 October, a significant victory for the tobacco lobby.

>> Read: Parliament vote on new tobacco legislation postponed

As a result, time is running out to introduce the directive before January when the EU presidency passes from Lithuania to Greece, which is seen as opposed to tobacco controls. In April, the Parliament goes into recess until the European elections of May 2014, which could further delay adoption until after the summer.

"There is little time to get the directive passed before this parliament comes to an end and the whole process has to start again," Deborah Arnott, chief executive at health charity Ash, told The Guardian.

"That would be good news for the tobacco industry in its endless search to wring profits out of new addicts, but terrible news for children and young people across Europe."

Delay was a specific lobbying goal

Delaying the directive has been a key goal of the tobacco lobby. Internal briefing documents by Philip Morris EU public affairs dating from 2011 and 2012 – marked "private and confidential, for internal discussion and illustration purposes only" – show that the tobacco company intended on derailing the directive.

A company spreadsheet seen by the newspaper reveals that it used 161 employees and consultants in lobbying. It also shows that in the year to June 2012, the lobbyists claimed almost €1.48 million in expenses for their meetings with MEPs.

The spreadsheet reportedly shows that by 22 June last year, 233 MEPs, 31% of the parliament, had been met by the tobacco company at least once. In a separate spreadsheet, several MEPs are listed as having been met four or five times. Almost half of the European People's Party (EPP) and European centre-right groups met with Philip Morris' lobbyists, the documents show.

Philip Morris declined to comment on the confidential documents. But in a statement it said it believed the directive was flawed.

"It is up to the EU to set the timeline for considering this legislation, and it is our hope that these flaws will be addressed and that the EU implements a regulatory framework that is fair, science-based and makes sense in light of the EU's priorities, without imposing unnecessary burden on the economy," Philip Morris said according to the British newspaper.

MEPs have previously complained that they have been 'bombarded' with dozens of e-mails, letters and brochures from the tobacco industry in the days leading up to votes in the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee.

Health campaigners reacted angrily over the news that the vote had been postponed.

In a statement, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) said that it was the second time the industry had tried to delay the adoption of the directive, mentioning the former health Commissioner John Dalli's resignation in October last year as the time of the first attempt. Twenty four hours later, the offices of several health NGOs which had been campaigning on tobacco, including EPHA's, were broken into and computers and other items were stolen.

EPHA stressed that the adoption of the directive had to take place in 2013 as there will be Parliamentary elections in May 2014 and election campaigns will further delay the adoption of the directive with valuable months.

"A majority of Europeans support tobacco control policies. They deserve a strong and timely commitment from EU decision-makers. Europe pays a hefty price for its slow action on tobacco, both in economic costs and harm to its citizens’ health and well-being," EPHA said in the statement.

The Association Internationale de la Mutualité (AIM), a group of autonomous health insurance and social protection bodies, said that because it was not the first time that the proposal had been delayed, MEPs needed to be reminded that the directive was a priority in the fight against tobacco.

"AIM calls both the Parliament and the Council to find a compromise adopting the measures proposed by the report of MEP McAvan for stronger measures to reduce tobacco consumption in Europe and thereby aiming to improve the health status of all Europeans," the group said.

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.

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

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