EU states’ concerns could delay plain packaging for tobacco

Portugal, Bulgaria and Slovakia object to plans drawn up by James Reilly

The then minister for health James Reilly speaking to media atfter the Cabinet’s decision to approve the publication his tobacco legislation in June. He will retain some responsibility for tobacco control in his new post  Photograph: Alan Betson

The then minister for health James Reilly speaking to media atfter the Cabinet’s decision to approve the publication his tobacco legislation in June. He will retain some responsibility for tobacco control in his new post Photograph: Alan Betson

Wed, Aug 6, 2014, 01:00

A number of EU countries have lodged concerns about the plain packaging tobacco proposals put forward by James Reilly when he was minister for health.

Portugal, Bulgaria and Slovakia have submitted concerns in recent weeks about the plans, which Dr Reilly brought to Cabinet in his final weeks in the Department of Health.

They have lodged objections on the basis that the proposals are incompatible with EU rules on the free movement of goods and services, among other issues. The deadline for submitting objections has been extended, with the possibility more could follow.

Dr Reilly’s plans were received by the European Commission on June 17th, just a week after he received approval from Cabinet.

Cabinet reshuffle

While he was moved out of the Department of Health in last month’s reshuffle, Dr Reilly will be taking some aspects of tobacco control policy with him to the Department of Children, although the exact details have yet to be finalised.

 

The law would ban the use of logos on packaging or on cigarettes. Graphic warnings would be mandatory on all packaging and terms such as “low tar” would be forbidden.

Ireland would be the first EU member state to introduce plain-packaging legislation, prompting anxiety in the global tobacco industry that an Irish law could set a precedent for Europe.

As part of EU rules, proposals regarding technical standards and regulations must be submitted to the commission. The plain-packaging initiative comes under the enterprise and industry arm of the commission.

Opposition

Other member states and the commission may issue reactions to the draft plans, but this is rare. The commission is unlikely to oppose Dr Reilly’s Bill outright, but Ireland may have to take comments from it and other member states into account, which could lead to delays in its introduction.

 

The closing date for submissions on the plain packaging Bill was September 18th, and the commission says detailed opinions are submitted when the proposals are “incompatible with the principles . . . on the free movement of goods or services or when it infringes a community harmonisation directive, regulation or decision”. The commission says the precise contents of the detailed opinions are not available at this stage because “the case is ongoing”.

While the proposals are lodged with the European Commission, the country implementing the laws has to obey a three-month “stand still” period, during which the member state must not adopt the draft laws, until they are given the all clear at European level. An extended stand still period lasts for a further three months after opinions are lodged.