Mixed reaction to European Parliament decision on tobacco products directive

Irish Cancer Society accuses MEPs of bowing to pressure from lobbyists

There was a mixed reaction to the decision by the European Parliament to proceed with the EU's tobacco products directive, with one anti-smoking group accusing MEPs of bowing to pressure from lobbyists.

MEPs voted yesterday on a common position on the directive, which aims to tighten up tobacco legislation across the European Union, amid allegations of intensive lobbying in Brussels by the tobacco industry over the past few months.

Although the directive paves the way for an increase in the size of health warnings on packets and the elimination of "10-pack" cigarettes, the position adopted by the European Parliament yesterday deviates significantly from the original European Commission proposal.

While MEPs voted to ban menthol cigarettes, the introduction of the full ban will not start until 2022.

Medicinal products
Meanwhile, a proposal to classify electronic cigarettes as medicinal products was also rejected, although new limits on how products are advertised will be introduced. Regulation of the electronic products, which contain no tobacco but do contain nicotine, had been one of the most controversial aspects of the proposed legislation, with some anti-smoking campaigners arguing that e-cigarettes encourage smoking.

MEPs voted to restrict mandatory health warnings to 65 per cent of cigarette packaging, compared to the threshold of 75 per cent set out in the original European Commission proposal.

However, there had been fears that the threshold could have been lowered further, after the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) proposed an amendment stipulating that only 50 per cent of the packaging should be given over to graphic health warnings.

Stringent measures
Under the current system, pictorial warnings are not obligatory in the EU, although written warnings are compulsory. While the new EU directive imposes a minimum standard on tobacco manufacturers in terms of packaging, countries are free to introduce more stringent measures.

Ireland, which negotiated a common position between states during the Irish presidency of the EU Council, had played a central role in the passage of the legislation through the parliament, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny writing to all EPP and Irish MEPs on Monday, urging parliament not to back the amendment to reduce the size of the health warning to 50 per cent.

The Irish Cancer Society welcomed the decision to increase the size of health warnings to 65 per cent as well as the elimination of the sale of cigarettes in packs of 10, but termed phasing in of some of the proposals over eight years as "a success for the tobacco industry and their lobbyists."

Fianna Fáil MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher said the vote struck a balance between preventing young people from taking up smoking, and protecting jobs.