The European Commission seems once again to have come down in favour of a quit-or-die approach to tobacco consumption, rather than a harm reduction approach.
Its proposed tobacco products directive revisions, issued yesterday, leave snus banned outside of Sweden and seek to discourage the use of electronic cigarettes.
Many people, including some tobacco control advocates, believe that snus and electronic cigarettes are far less harmful than are cigarettes. And they believe that many cigarette smokers could be persuaded to switch to these products, given the right circumstances.
At the same time, at least one tobacco analyst has commented that the revisions seem unlikely to have more than a marginal effect on traditional cigarette consumption.
And other commentators have made the point that revisions banning products with characterising flavors, including menthol, are likely to encourage further the trade in illicit products.
The Commission’s legislative proposal will now go before the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, the institutions responsible for adopting binding legislation.
Ideally, the Commission would like to see the new directive adopted by no later than 2014 and to come into effect from 2015-2016.
Under the proposals, nicotine delivery products such as electronic cigarettes containing less than 2 mg of nicotine would be allowed on the market, but they would have to carry health warnings. As was described in a report here yesterday, most electronic cigarettes contain more than 2 mg of nicotine and these would be allowed onto the market only after exhaustive pharmaceutical-type testing.
The ban on snus outside ofSwedenwould be maintained and all smokeless tobacco products would have to carry health warnings.
New types of tobacco products would have to comply with the directive and would require prior notification before being placed on the market.
The Commission’s proposals would include a ban on cigarettes, roll-your-own and smokeless tobacco products with characterising flavors, including menthol, and a ban on products with additives that increase toxicity and ‘addictiveness’.
Swedenhas already suggested that there would be a problem if the revisions kept the ban on snus outside of that country but tried to dictate the product’s ingredients.
Pipe tobacco, cigars and cigarillos would be the subject of less stringent rules. There would be no ban on characterizing flavors and no requirements for graphic health warnings in respect of these products.
On the other hand, all cigarette and roll-your-own packs would have to carry health warnings that included a graphic element, and those warnings would be increased in size so as to cover 75 per cent of the front and back surfaces. Certain aspects of the packs would be standardized, but the revisions propose leaving decisions about plain packaging to individual countries.
It is estimated that about 30 per cent of a pack’s total surface would remain for branding.
The revisions include also requirements for retailers engaging in cross-border distance sales and they ‘foresee’ a tracking and tracing system and security features for cigarette packs.
Philip Morris International yesterday welcomed the publication of the proposals though not some of the detail.
“PMI is pleased that the Commission has finally issued its proposed Tobacco Products Directive so that it now may be reviewed and debated in an open, transparent, objective and constructive manner by all concerned in the coming months,” said the company’s vice president, communications, Julie Soderlund.
“An initial reading of the proposal suggests that many of the recommended measures will not achieve the Commission’s public health goals and will result in numerous unintended adverse consequences which appear to have been disregarded by its authors.
“The proposed Directive explicitly prohibits products that account for approximately 10 per cent of the European Union cigarette market, and in some member states more than 30 per cent of the market, despite the fact that there is no credible scientific evidence that these products are more harmful than others or that taking them off the market will reduce smoking rates. At a time when Europe can least afford it, the Commission’s proposal ignores the massive black market for tobacco products which already costs member states 10 billion euros annually, but advocates measures that will undoubtedly fuel its further growth.
“In addition, the proposal would significantly limit consumer access to, and information about, products that have the very real potential to reduce the harm caused by conventional tobacco products. In doing this the Commission has chosen not only to stifle innovation but also to ignore the potential these products have to improve public health.
“We trust that the hostility of some towards our industry will not blind them to the important economic, legal and societal issues that this proposed Directive raises. We believe that its numerous flaws need to be addressed to ensure that the EU implements a regulatory framework for tobacco products in Europe that is fair, science-based and effective in reducing the harm caused by smoking without imposing unnecessary burden on the economy. Europe deserves nothing less.”