Press briefing on Tobacco Product Directive

Monday 12 June 2000

Press Release
11th June 2000
Action on Smoking
and Health

Letter sent by ASH to British MEPs on 6th June

Dear …

Re: Tobacco Directive

I am sure you will be aware of the forthcoming important decisions to be made regarding the proposed tobacco Directive – which will be considered by the European Parliament during the plenary on or around 13th June with a vote at midday on the 14th.  In summary, the directive:

  • Reduces tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide yields for cigarettes
  • Increases the size and clarity of health warnings
  • Requires disclosure of additives to tobacco products and their purpose
  • Bans misleading light and mild branding
  • Creates a process for updating the directive in the light of evolving scientific knowledge.

This is an important package of public health measures aimed at ensuring that the single market operates with a high level of health and consumer protection, as required and justified by the Amsterdam Treaty.  In no other part of the single market is the need for health and consumer protection more pressing – over 500,000 EU citizens die each year as a result of smoking.  Even small changes in the total consumption of tobacco have enormous absolute public health implications.  For this reason every decision about tobacco policy is essentially a life and death matter.

We are calling on British MEPs to adopt a three-pronged approach to the directive in next week’s plenary:

  1. Resist wrecking delays

It is clear that there is a concerted campaign to stall the proposed Directive using procedural tactics.  I hope that British MEPs will do everything possible to ensure the Directive passes through the early stages of the plenary of 13th June.  If the Directive is delayed in its passage through the Parliament next week this will trigger a delay of 6 months and probably longer.

  1. Dismiss challenges to the legal base

The Directive is part of the European Union’s attempt to raise the level of health and consumer protection within a properly functioning single market.   Because the EU already regulates health warnings and tar yields of cigarettes, it is difficult for member states to take action independently and it is therefore properly a matter for the European Union.  There have been moves -notably in the Legal Affairs Committee – to suggest the Directive does not have a proper legal base.  In our view, this is a wrecking tactic primarily inspired by tobacco interests rather than rooted in any genuine concern for the correct application of EU law.   In fact, the Directive is well founded under Article 95 of the Amsterdam Treaty, which requires the single market to operate with a high level of health and consumer protection. The legal services of the European Parliament have recently issued an opinion to this effect and this concurs with the views of the legal services of the Council and the Commission – and, frankly, with common sense. The proposed Directive is a recasting of existing Directives whose legal base is assured and unchallenged and the legal objections really do not hold water.  I hope the Environment Committee will roundly dismiss spurious objections related to the legal base.

  1. Adopt the Environment Committee report and amendments

The report and package of 48 amendments proposed by the Environment Committee is carefully crafted and represent a very constructive development.  In total this a worthwhile improvement of the Directive beyond the Commission proposal and current view of the Council working party.  We are advocating a straightforward approach of endorsing the Environment Committee’s report (PE232.878) in full.

A note about health warnings

On the controversial matter of the size of warnings, the evidence supports the simple conclusion that ‘size matters’, and the bigger the warning the better the impact. We have assembled evidence to this effect with links to original documents on the ASH web site here. Even if the improved consumer information and warnings leads only to (say) a 0.1% change in consumption, the public health benefit would be several hundred lives saved each year – greater than many high profile public health issues confronting the EU. The evidence from Poland, where warnings were increased to 30% of the pack face is that the effect would be many times greater than this.

On this basis,we advocate warnings as large as possible, and we support the Environment Committee proposal to have warnings covering 40% of the front and 50% of the back of the pack.  We would strongly oppose any position taken in the parliament that led to warnings covering less than 30% of the pack face – it would be completely unacceptable for the EU to be setting standards below those already operating in Poland, and we should be aspiring to the best practice.  Warnings in Canada will soon be increased to 50% of both pack faces – located at the top and with pictorial content to strengthen the impact.

I would like to stress the importance of the Parliament’s deliberations to the health community in the UK.  Some 600 organisations from around the country are represented in the Tobacco Action Network co-ordinated by ASH. We are keen to involve them all in campaigning for the best possible outcome at the plenary.  You can, therefore,be assured of a considerable show of support in the UK for a progressive position adopted by the parliament during the plenary.

Please contact me by phone or e-mail if I can help in any way or clarify the points herein.

Yours sincerely
Clive Bates


Contact Clive Bates, ASH (020) 7739 5902

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