TPD reaction: European parliament tobacco vote a 'bittersweet victory'

The close vote on the EU's tobacco products directive demonstrates that the influence and reach of the tobacco industry in Europe needs to become a priority for regulators at national and European level, argues EPHA's Monika Kosinska.

By Monika Kosinska

08 Oct 2013

Today's tobacco vote victory in the European parliament is bittersweet in many ways.

We entered the vote knowing that the big wins were already lost - mandatory plain packaging á la Australia never made it into the European commission's proposal for example - and therefore this was always going to be a vote about a second best approach.

The European parliament vote for 65 per cent of a packet with warnings was disappointing given the evidence (and public opinion) available showing that 75 per cent would make a significant difference. 

However, on the positive side, the parliament supported warnings at the top and not bottom of the packet, which evidence supports as being more effective in deterring users.

A ban on menthol which we welcome due to the appeal to women and young people - both of whom are increasing users of tobacco, especially in central and eastern Europe.

"Around 5.6 million children will start using tobacco... and half of them will die from it"

However, the derogation of five years means that the earliest date a ban on menthol will enter into force is 2022 and, taken together with the parliamentary failure to ban slim cigarettes, is an appalling derogation of duty to protect public health.

Around 5.6 million children will start using tobacco in that time, and half of them will die from it - which shows heartbreaking disregard for the value of human life in favour of a few more years of industry profit.

There were some positive aspects to the vote: the list of additives, adoption of traceability features and continuation of the ban on snus are all welcome.

Most importantly, member states were approved to be able to move further than the provisions of the directive, meaning that those that want to introduce mandatory plain packaging will be able to do so.

The strong mandate given to take the next step of negotiations forward is a good signal that despite the intense lobbying, the weakening of the provisions and the failure to ensure a high level of health protection, the overall strategy of the tobacco industry to delay this directive has so far failed.

We hope that some of our continued concerns are adequately resolved in the negotiations with the council and that this has shone a spotlight on the continued influence of the tobacco industry and its continual behaviour as a mosquito; a vector of disease, misery and human suffering.