EU tobacco directive 'close to stalling'

In collaboration with the Press Association

EU-wide plans to further regulate tobacco are under threat, according to a commentary in the medical journal The Lancet.

A revised Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) is thought to be close to stalling, with the authors of the comment claiming that any more delays "will raise serious questions about whose interest the EU Commission is promoting".

The issues are considered in a special report on The Lancet News podcast, which features an interview with John Dalli - who gave up his position of EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy recently following a complaint from a tobacco company of financial impropriety.

His resignation may hold up the revised directive, even though the wording has been cleared both legally and administratively and is ready to move to the next stage.

Public health bodies from across Europe and a group MEPs have all called for there to be no further delays in the Commission releasing the draft directive.

Just 48 hours after Dalli's resignation, laptops and documents were stolen during a break-in at the Brussels offices of a group of anti-tobacco campaigners. One of the organisations burgled in Brussels was the Smoke free Partnership.

The series of events has "set alarm bells ringing" for one of the authors of the comment piece in The Lancet, Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Professor McKee said uncovering the truth may not come soon enough for the directive and added, "the only beneficiaries of delay are the tobacco companies".

Paul Belcher, senior EU Government affairs advisor at the Royal College of Physicians in London, said the situation was affecting people's confidence in the EU's ability to make decisions and undermining efforts to protect people from the health problems caused by tobacco.

Smoke free Partnership director Florence Berteletti, said: "A few months ago, we exposed the tobacco industry's block, amend and delay tactics on the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive and warned that these tactics are being deployed again in this review process. At the time, we emphasised that policy-makers need to be aware of how the tobacco industry tries to influence the legislation - and when it cannot, to block or delay the process.

"We are now witnessing a major potential setback in the TPD review and we call on the Commission, European Parliament and on Member States not to let themselves be detracted from the goal of reviewing legislation to improve public health in Europe. We strongly urge Vice President Maros Sefcovic to ensure that the TPD review proposal is released before the end of the year as was promised by the Commission."

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, said: "Following the resignation of John Dalli, the EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs, we are concerned that this development threatens to further delay the review of the TPD.

"Cancer Research UK is calling for larger warnings (including pictures) on both sides of the packet, plain packaging and regulation of flavourings and additives, to protect young people from the marketing of this highly addictive and seriously harmful product.

"A stronger Tobacco Products Directive is urgently needed to help protect people from tobacco marketing and reduce youth smoking rates. Tobacco causes 650,000 deaths each year in Europe. We are witnessing a major potential setback in the TPD review and we call on the Commission, European Parliament and Member States to ensure that the TPD review proposal is released before the end of the year as was promised by the Commission."

Copyright Press Association 2012.

References

  • McKee, M., Belcher, P. & Kosinska, M. (2012). The EU Tobacco Products Directive must not be derailed, The Lancet, 380 (9852) 1448. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61774-7