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« Cameron: EU ban on ten packs doesn't sound very sensible | Main | TPD vote generates "mixed feelings" »
Wednesday
Oct092013

Tobacco Directive could have been worse but don't believe the spin

Yesterday I had to drive my son to university.

It was his first day and we arrived, as directed, in the narrow lane outside the college at eleven o'clock sharp.

It was a super efficient operation. Within minutes we were surrounded by a small team of second year students who took less than a minute to strip the car of all his luggage and possessions before taking them to his room.

And off he went - happy, I think, to be fully independent at last.

(I can't believe it's almost 19 years since we emerged from Edinburgh Royal Infirmary with a small bundle that I had enormous difficulty strapping into the car seat. He's changed enormously since then, believe me!)

So I was on the M40 driving home when I got the news. The European Parliament had voted to ban menthol cigarettes (though not for eight years), prohibit ten packs and increase the size of health warnings to 65 per cent of the pack.

Slim cigarettes have been reprieved, as expected. And a compromise appears to have been reached over pouches of roll your own tobacco.

The smallest (12.5g) will banned but the word is that 20g packs may be allowed. (The original proposal would have banned 25g pouches as well.)

Media wise speed is essential so I pulled into a Welcome Break service station, bought a coffee in Starbucks, sat down with my laptop, and began writing a press release (see previous post).

Back in London Forest campaigns manager Angela Harbutt had already finished a string of interviews for BBC local radio. Stations included:

BBC Radio Gloucestershire
BBC Radio York
BBC Radio Essex
BBC Radio Sheffield
BBC Radio Cumbria
BBC Radio Ulster
BBC Radio Scotland
and BBC Radio Wales

Yesterday afternoon the phone continued to ring. Journalists and broadcasters wanted to know what Forest had to say about the vote.

Bruno Waterfield, a famously eurosceptic correspondent who works for the Daily Telegraph in Brussels, called.

So did the political editor of Metro. (Angela is quoted on today's front page.)

Someone working for the BBC in Europe then wanted to know if we had anyone in Strasbourg they could interview. (Sadly, no.)

We were also asked to provide a spokesman for BBC World's Business Edition programme at 9.00pm.

I agreed to do it from the BBC's studio in Cambridge.

It was dark when I arrived and there were only one or two people about. I was led into a soundproof room the size of a small walk-in cupboard.

According to BBC World the TPD has been "watered down". Curiously this is the same message that some tobacco control campaigners are furiously spinning.

Apparently it's all due to Big Tobacco spending millions of pounds lobbying MEPs.

According to the Independent (EU’s ‘shame’ as it caves in to lobbying by tobacco giants over the sale and advertising of cigarettes):

The European Parliament has bowed to intense tobacco industry lobbying and scaled back its proposals to restrict the sale and promotion of cigarettes across Europe.

No mention of the millions of pounds - most of it public money - hoovered up by the tobacco control industry to lobby MEPs in exactly the same way.

The fact is, law-abiding consumers face more regulations including the prohibition of products they have purchased/enjoyed for many years.

The best that can be said is, it could have been worse.

The TPD process is not yet over though so we will continue to write to politicians in Brussels and Westminster as we see fit. If tobacco control campaigners don't like it, tough.

Significantly MEPs rejected proposals to regulate e-cigarettes as medicines. This is a significant victory for a fledgling industry and an impressive example of consumer power.

I'm not sure what impact the European Parliament's decision will have on the UK, though, where e-cigs are due to become a medicinal product from 2016.

The problem is, while member states have to enforce the Tobacco Products Directive (they can't dilute it according to their own national circumstances), they can go further if they want to.

For example, there is nothing to stop Ireland or the UK introducing plain packaging even though it was omitted from the Directive.

It wouldn't make much sense, of course, just as it wouldn't make sense for the Scottish Government to unilaterally introduce plain packaging in Scotland.

It remains a threat, nonetheless.

Anyway, here are links to some reports featuring comments by Forest:

MEPs tighten anti-tobacco laws aimed at young smokers (BBC News)
EU bans packets of 10 and menthol cigarettes (Daily Telegraph)
Menthol cigarettes and packs of 10 to be outlawed (Metro)
EU rules to ban menthol cigarettes (Daily Express)
MEPs vote to tighten anti-tobacco laws, target young smokers (Russia Today)
MEPs vote to tighten cigarette laws (Yorkshire Post)
Menthol cigarettes to be banned (Politics.co.uk)
Ten-packs and flavoured cigarettes to be banned under EU smoking regs (The Grocer)
EU moves to ban sale of cigarettes in packs of ten in bid to cut tobacco use (Daily Mirror)

In Ireland Forest Eireann was quoted by RTE - Tighter controls for tobacco products approved.

I also liked this amusing post by Chris Snowdon, Tobacco Products Directive: the jury is in (Velvet Glove Iron Fist).

And this:

PS. Chris harked on the subject in another of his tweets, but it's interesting to note the widespread coverage the British media gave the Tobacco Products Directive yesterday.

Prior to that (and we're going back several years), they had shown almost no interest at all.

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