The Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control

Industry influence weakens EU tobacco control measures

By Florence Berteletti, Luk Joossens and Anka Toma*

Against a tide of unprecedented tobacco industry lobbying to water down the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and delay the legislative process, the plenary of the European Parliament (EP) voted on 8 October to support mandatory pictorial warnings covering 65 percent of both sides of cigarette packs (a hard-fought battle won at the last minute).

The Parliament also agreed:

  • restrictions on characterizing flavours without exception (with a temporary derogation of five years for menthol);
  • strong tracking and tracing provisions for tobacco products, to prevent illicit trade, and
  • strong regulation of novel tobacco products.

While the Parliament rejected a ban on slim cigarettes, it maintained restrictions on other misleading features of tobacco products and the ability of member states to adopt more stringent measures to regulate tobacco products, such as plain packaging. The EP also decided to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

"This result is not ideal for public health, and is a bittersweet moment for tobacco control."

This result is not ideal for public health, and is a bittersweet moment for tobacco control. For instance, we did not get all the measures we wanted, such as graphic warnings covering 75 percent of packs, but we managed to ensure that the Parliament adopts a negotiation mandate (another hard-fought battle won at the last moment), allowing the start of negotiations with member states and the European Commission.

Just like during the Conference of the Parties of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and it remains to be seen whether a compromise will be reached between the three EU institutions before the European elections in May 2014: the TPD could still be indefinitely delayed.

Everyone knows that many EU countries are now falling behind best practices in FCTC implementation: labelling policy is no exception to this. Those of us working at the EU level should ask ourselves why this is happening.

Since EU enlargement in 2004 and 2006, the political balance of power has swung back to the member states, and there has been a huge increase in tobacco industry influence in many countries (including Poland, Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria, but also in Germany and Italy).

A handful of advocates in Brussels and a few national organisations have had difficulty holding back this tide. With some notable exceptions (we know who they are), many European organisations have not met their responsibilities at EU and European regional level. If this continues, our analysis is that tobacco control policy in the EU will further deteriorate and then disappear without the rest of the world noticing.

Perhaps it is time to seriously evaluate the impact that this could have in other parts of the world? In any case, we will keep you updated on events surrounding the TPD in coming months. Watch this space....

Director, Smoke Free Partnership; Advocacy Officer, Association of European Cancer Leagues; Senior Policy Advisor, Smoke Free Partnership.

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