The conclusion of the negotiations between the council of the EU and the European parliament on the revision of the tobacco products directive marked the end of a year of intense lobbying since the legislative proposal was released after repeated delays by the European commission in December 2012. More importantly, however, it marked the commitment of the EU institutions to protecting our young people and children from the harm and suffering caused by tobacco.
The EU is the biggest trading bloc in the world: given this fact, we should all acknowledge that the tobacco pandemic was largely created by us (the EU) and that, as significant offenders and key exporters of the tobacco problem to the rest of the world, we have a special responsibility to take tobacco control seriously.
In this context, today's agreement in Coreper is a major step forward in tobacco control and something that policy makers should be proud of. In line with Monday's provisional agreement with the European parliament, member states supported an agreement on mandatory pictorial warnings covering 65 per cent of both sides to be placed at the top of the pack, a ban on characterising flavours without exception (with a temporary derogation of 6 years for menthol), strong tracking and tracing provisions for tobacco products across the entire supply chain and appropriate regulation for nicotine-containing products. Though the text is not perfect, member states maintain the right to introduce more stringent measures such as plain packaging and the text advances EU tobacco control far beyond the legislation that is currently in force.
[pullquote]The Goliath of the tobacco industry and its army of lobbyists have not won; the EU is forcing tobacco companies to make tobacco products less attractive to Europe’s young people[/pullquote]. Those responsible for the dossier have proved that values can still win over trade, that health can still win over profits and ultimately, that the EU can still make a difference to people’s live in Europe and beyond. However, without the leadership of the (few) EU policy makers who were brave enough to defend the revision of the tobacco products directive, today’s success would be unimaginable.
The compromise text must still be approved by the European parliament and formally adopted by the council of the EU. It isn’t over yet. However, the agreement today shows that the EU is prepared to fight against an army of lobbyists and put the health of its citizens first.