Strasbourg round-up: Tobacco products directive

Written by Linda McAvan, Frédérique Ries, Martin Callanan, Martina Anderson and Carl Schlyter on 28 February 2014 in Special Report
Special Report

Linda McAvan, Frédérique Ries, Martin Callanan, Martina Anderson and Carl Schlyter share their views on the outcome of parliament's plenary vote on revising the EU's tobacco products directive.

Linda McAvan is parliament's rapporteur on the report on tobacco and related products: manufacture, presentation and sale

The main aim of the new directive is to deter young people from taking up smoking. It also addresses the existing legislative vacuum on electronic cigarettes.

This is the culmination of years of work against the background of intense lobbying from the tobacco industry and its front groups.

"The new measures are a big step forward for tobacco control and will help to prevent the next generation of smokers from being recruited"

The new measures are a big step forward for tobacco control and will help to prevent the next generation of smokers from being recruited. We know that it is children – not adults – who start to smoke: the overwhelming majority of smokers start before their 18th birthday.

And the recent trends in child smoking are worrying – this is why the law is designed to tackle the array of gimmicky products and packaging that the tobacco industry uses to attract young people and hook them into a life-long addiction.

Smoking will ultimately kill one in every two smokers – it claims the lives of 700,000 people every year across Europe. Today we have set tougher rules, but member states are allowed to go further.

The new law also introduces proper regulation of e-cigarettes for the first time. The final measures are very close to what MEPs voted for – e-cigarettes will not be required to seek a medicines licence unless they are marketed as an aid to quitting smoking.

E-cigarette manufacturers have the option of having their products treated like tobacco products – i.e. they can be sold freely – as long as they meet certain safeguards.

These include the same advertising bans as for tobacco products, quality and safety standards, better labelling for consumers on nicotine content and dose, and a cap on the nicotine strength.

Manufacturers who wish to do so can still apply for a medicines licence and would be able to advertise, have their products recommended by doctors and sell high-strength products with a nicotine concentration above the 20mg/ml cap.

I want to encourage the potential benefits that e-cigarettes offer regular smokers in terms of harm reduction, and the best way of doing this is by guaranteeing smokers access to products they can trust.


Frédérique Ries is parliament's ALDE group shadow rapporteur on the report on tobacco and related products: manufacture, presentation and sale

The revision of the tobacco products directive, finally signed off by the European parliament earlier this week, sets new standards for packaging, labelling, flavourings and tobacco-related products like the rise in use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

As shadow rapporteur for the ALDE group, I of course welcome new rules to beef up the warnings on cigarette packs, with bigger pictures and harsher words for smokers.

Health warnings will now take up 65 per cent of the surface area of a cigarette packet (it was my amendment) after studies show that this has an impact on existing smokers and acts as a deterrent to discourage young people from taking up smoking and reducing the 700,000 deaths every year across the EU from tobacco-related health problems.

"The European commission and member states were too obsessed by the possible toxic and addictive qualities of nicotine in e-cigarettes to appreciate their value in preventing cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems connected with traditional cigarettes"


An ALDE campaign over recent months sought to ensure that the new e-cigarettes would not be treated any less favourably than traditional tobacco.

While electronic cigarettes with a nicotine content of 20mg/ml or less will not be considered a medicinal product nor their sale restricted to pharmacies, which would have killed off the new and growing market in tobacco alternatives.

The text agreed still contains a number of restrictions on the volume and concentration of nicotine that will impact on many small and medium sized companies currently manufacturing them and provides a legally uncertain future if they are banned in more than three member states.

The European commission and member states were too obsessed by the possible toxic and addictive qualities of nicotine in e-cigarettes to appreciate their value in preventing cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems connected with traditional cigarettes.

In so doing, they failed to see the wood for the trees.


Martin Callanan is parliament's ECR group shadow rapporteur on the report on tobacco and related products: manufacture, presentation and sale

My Group, the ECR, supported the vast majority of measures aimed at discouraging younger people from taking up smoking, such as larger pack warnings and a ban on flavourings.

However, these revisions have been undermined by the directive's draconian restrictions on electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), which deliver nicotine using vapour to avoid many of the harmful side effects of smoking such as tar, smoke and carbon monoxide.

The tobacco products directive introduces ten pages of new red tape on e-cigarettes that will prohibit 'refillable' devices - which comprise a large component of the market - if only three EU countries ban them.

"This agreement has mishandled e-cigarettes regulation"

It would also restrict all but the weaker e-cigarettes (20 mg/ml nicotine), and risks smokers going back to cigarettes in order to achieve the same nicotine 'hit'.

I have fought a long campaign for e-cigarettes to be regulated in a manner proportionate to existing evidence, and have received thousands of emails and letters from users who argue that the products have enabled them to move off tobacco.

I strongly supported the parliament's position before negotiations with council in October 2013, which called for e-cigarettes to be lightly regulated until we know what regulation might be required.

In spite of this, a select number of MEPs and officials have forced through a raft of restrictions and red tape into back-room negotiations without consulting other MEPs or indeed e-cigarette users.

This agreement has mishandled e-cigarettes regulation. By making it harder for smokers to get hold of e-cigarettes of the strength they require, this directive will serve to increase the chance of them resuming smoking tobacco.


Martina Anderson is parliament's GUE group shadow rapporteur on the report on tobacco and related products: manufacture, presentation and sale

I warmly welcome the result of the tobacco products directive vote which was overwhelmingly endorsed by MEPs earlier this week during the plenary vote in Strasbourg.

This important piece of tobacco control legislation will now become legally enforceable.

Although I feel we could have gone even further, the result of this vote is undoubtedly a major victory for public health especially given the context of intense and unwavering lobbying from the tobacco companies and its affiliates, representing an industry whose products kill one in two of its long term users.

Attempts to amend and weaken the directive thankfully were unsuccessful. Seeking to increase the minimum size of roll your own (RYO) packages for example would have played directly into the tobacco industry's hands.

"I strongly support ongoing considerations in Ireland and Britain to introduce 100 per cent standardised packaging"

Smaller packs, aptly known as 'kiddie packs' are much more affordable and therefore attractive for young people and children – the key demographic this legislation is aiming to protect from industry influence.

Other measures including; combined picture and text health warnings covering 65 per cent of the packet; a ban on flavours such as chocolate; minimum sizes for cigarette packets and RYO packages and a ban on 'lipstick' packets are a step in the right direction in protecting tomorrow's generation from beginning this deadly habit.

It is now up to member states to go further in prioritising public health over tobacco industry profit.

I strongly support ongoing considerations in Ireland and Britain to introduce 100 per cent standardised packaging.

We must be robust in restricting the influence this industry has on our young people.


Carl Schlyter is parliament's Greens group shadow rapporteur on the report on tobacco and related products: manufacture, presentation and sale

The EU's new tobacco rules are definitely a step forward, but could have been much better if not for the intensive lobbying of the tobacco industry in reducing its original ambition.

I am glad that e-cigarettes finally will be regulated in the near future. It is very important that they don't become a 'gateway' to smoking for young people.

But we shall continue on, aiming for plain packaging of tobacco products and to clarify that member states can push ahead individually.

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