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EC ignores result of consultation on revisions to Tobacco Products Directive

The European Commission yesterday announced significant revisions to its Tobacco Products Directive (TPD).

The main proposals are:

  • Health warnings must cover 75 per cent of the front and back of the package
  • Cigarettes, roll your own tobacco and smokeless tobacco with "characterising flavours" (eg menthol) will be banned
  • All smokeless tobacco products must carry health warnings on the package
  • Nicotine containing products (eg electronic cigarettes) below a certain nicotine threshold will be permitted but must feature health warnings; above this threshold such products will only allowed if authorised as medicinal products, like nicotine replacement therapies
  • Ban on oral tobacco (snus) to continue, except in Sweden which has an exemption
  • Member states can introduce plain packaging

As you can imagine we've been following the TPD process with interest. In fact, Forest's concern with what happens at EU level goes back two decades when we were founder members of a now defunct European-wide organisation that brought together smokers' rights groups in a dozen countries.

All that remains of that network are groups in Holland and Spain so in 2007 we struck out alone and submitted a response to an EU Green Paper consultation, 'Towards a Europe free from tobacco smoke: policy options at EU level'.

Having registered our intention to represent the views of consumers, the next step was to engage directly with officials. In March 2008 we discovered that a meeting was being held for "EU experts, civil society and social partners to support the Commission's Impact Assessment on the forthcoming initiative on smoke-free environments".

Hosted by DG Sanco, the department (or Directorate General) for health and consumer protection in Brussels, it was also described as a "stakeholder consultation on the Commission's smoke-free initiative".

Needless to say, when I asked if Forest could attend we got the distinct impression that officials weren't terribly keen on the idea. Writing on this blog, I described what happened:

I sensed, as soon as I entered the room and introduced myself ("Hello, I'm Simon Clark - from the smokers' lobby group Forest"), that there could be trouble. The guy from Pfizer (yes, the pharmaceutical company) didn't look pleased, and there were mutterings from some of the other delegates. (There were around 20 in all.)

No surprise then, when, as soon as the meeting began, and we had all formally identified ourselves, two or three hands shot up. As I suspected, some of my fellow delegates were none too happy that a representative of Forest was in the room. If I didn't leave, said one, she would. Others nodded their heads in agreement.

Full story: EU couldn't make it up.

Leading blogger Iain Dale read my post and commented:

Whether you agree with Forest's pro smoker standpoint, what an absolute outrage it is for people to behave like this in a so-called democratic institution. I hate smoking, but I abhor the smoking ban even more. It's this kind of libertarian view which pseudo-fascists like the woman mentioned above would just love to outlaw. They don't just want to ban things, they want to police what we are allowed to say too. They are on the slippery slope to a thought controlling authoritarian state.

See: The consequences of being denied freedom of speech.

Eighteen months later I attended another meeting hosted by DG Sanco in Brussels. Unusually it was organised to give the tobacco lobby an opportunity to question an impact assessment report (by "leading think tank" RAND Europe) entitled Measuring the Impacts of Revising the EU Tobacco Products Directive.

This time I wrote:

Superficially impressive, the 345-page report was the target of fierce criticism from almost everyone in the room with the obvious exception of the EC officials who were chairing or recording our comments and were, nominally, impartial ...

My own contribution was short and sweet. I criticised RAND's stakeholder engagement policy, pointing out that not a single consumer group had been contacted to participate in the report. (I told the meeting that a representative of RAND had been present when I had been asked to leave a previous meeting in Brussels in March 2008 so the company was well aware of Forest's existence and the fact that we wanted to play a full role in EU policy-making.)

I also criticised the scope of RAND's impact assessment which focussed on the impact of further tobacco regulations on health, economics and employment within the tobacco and retail sector but ignored other areas. I also objected to the fact that RAND talk about the "social cost of tobacco" as if this is entirely negative.

What is missing from the RAND report, I said, is an impact assessment of further regulations on adults who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit. What about the impact on their lifestyle? And why no assessment of the impact on people's freedom of choice or issues such as personal responsibility?

See: Taking (RAND) Europe to task.

Two months later, in December 2010, we organised an online petition to enable people to respond to the EC's public consultation document, Possible revision of the Tobacco Products Directive.

It was a last minute effort so to promote it we produced a short video (Fight EC proposals on tobacco control) that featured contributions from Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs), Dr Eamonn Butler (Adam Smith Institute), and Dave Bowden (Institute of Ideas).

See also: Forest petition, final total.

Seven months later, in July 2011, the EC published a report on the consultation. And guess what?

A significant majority of (citizen) respondents were against extending the scope of the Directive (ie further regulations).

A vast majority of (citizen) respondents ... were in favour of lifting the ban on snus.

A significant majority of (citizen) respondents disagreed with the regulation of ingredients at the EU level.

A significant majority of (citizen) respondents opposed limiting access to tobacco products.

According to the EC, the number of "citizen respondents" was 82,117, or 96 per cent of the overall total. The outcome of the consultation indicated there was a massive majority against further tobacco controls.

But wait. According to the EC:

It is to be noted that the responses to the consultation do not represent a survey of a diverse cross-section of society ...

While it is encouraging to see a great number of responses, it should also be noted that this volume appears to be a result, to a large extent, of several citizen mobilisation campaigns that took place in some Member States ...

Several different methods of mobilising and encouraging participation in the consultation process were utilized: from producing websites providing detailed information and guidance on how to participate ... to producing and distributing videos via YouTube about the need to limit changes to tobacco product regulation and tobacco control policy.

The actions and efforts of these campaigns and their ability to mobilise citizens seem to have affected the overall results of the public consultation.

Consequently, said the EC:

It is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the outcome of the public consultation procedure.

Full story: EC cries foul as citizens have their say.

Fast forward to December 2012 and the European Commission has not only ignored well-founded criticisms of the impact assessment report, it has chosen to dismiss the result of its own public consultation document. Instead it will press ahead with further regulations.

Forgive me for being cynical but I wonder if officials at the Department of Health are watching and thinking, "Can we pull a similar stunt with our own consultation on standardised packaging?".

Oh, to be a fly on the wall in Waterloo Road!

PS. Dick Puddlecote The EU acts swiftly to protect profits over health and Chris Snowdon Why snus will stay banned have also written about the TPD proposals.

See also: Tobacco products: towards bigger health warnings and ban of strong flavourings

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Reader Comments (6)

Euros in brown paper bags?

Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 11:18 | Unregistered CommenterClemmie Regan

It should be made clear to members of the Press who visit this site, that the permitted nicotine threshold for ecigs not authorised as medicinal products is deliberately set so low as to render them completely useless as a cigarette substiute. In the unlikely event of tobacco flavoured, or even cherry flavoured nicotine solution being authorised as a medicinal product, the whole process would have taken several years at a cost that the ecig industry could not afford.

Make no mistake, this directive is proposing a ban on ecigs.

Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 13:31 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

Let me get this straight...
Will I not be able to purchase menthol cigs in the UK if this goes through?

Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 19:47 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Button

Of course they can and will pull a similar stunt with their own consultations on packaging or any other product/person they want to ban next.
Because that's the agenda of the EC and what they do best.
Easy peasy when they can use taxpayers money to pay their 'consultant /spin doctors' millions to mix up words and turn your words around to use against you for their own purpose, as shown above, in such a fashion that you cant quiet get their meaning or have a proper debate because you might as well be speaking a different language as regards understanding their weasel words.
And THAT is the whole point of the EC.
And that's how they push through their Directives every time.

Friday, December 21, 2012 at 14:48 | Unregistered Commenterann

The problem is that the commissioners have no opposition whatever within the system. The only opposition comes from outside. Tobacco companies are bared, and so only we, the consumers, can object.
The really, really serious offence which the EU officials have committed is to ignore the views of the consumers, which were transmitted to them in the consultation. Of course these views are 'orchestrated' - how could they not be, since the vast majority are saying the same thing?
A consequential problem is the question of whether Governments will enact the appropriate legislation, or will they take into account the results of the EU consultation? They ought to do so to preserve democracy.
The EU 'directive' is of no importance in itself. It is merely an attempt to persuade all states in the union to do the same thing. It is the legislation which matters.
I am sure that our Health Dept Zealots will try to pull the same trick, but the consequences are different, and they may meet far more opposition.

Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 19:25 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

Thanks for the information about the petition. I saw that the closing date was 17th December, but as I only found out about it now, I signed it anyway. Well, I got the email confirmation and apparently my signature's been added.
This whole directive is very disturbing, something that is completely out of place in a so-called free society. Those of us who enjoy smoking tobacco, or enjoy e-cigs or snus, even those who don't partake of these particular pleasures but are tired of this nanny-state interference in our personal lives - we all need to stand together to fight this monster that the EU has become.
Well, there's hope yet! A very merry christmas to all.

Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 20:25 | Unregistered CommenterJocelyn

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