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Questions over effectiveness of tobacco-funded EU anti-smuggling campaign

| September 29, 2014

A report being presented to the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control committee raises concerns over the effectiveness and monitoring of the deal under which the four biggest international tobacco manufacturers co-operate with the European Commission in the fight against the illegal trade in tobacco, according to a New Europe story.

The four companies pay about €200 million a year towards funding initiatives aimed at combating contraband, which is said currently to account for more than one in 10 of the cigarettes sold in the EU.

Bart Staes, a Belgian Green member of the European Parliament is presenting a report to the committee that suggests there are some uncertainties about what the funds are used for.

“Some of the member states earmark the payments to fight cigarette smuggling, while others direct the money to the general budget,” said Staes.

“The Commission has so far not provided the committee on Budgetary Control and the European Parliament with the movements on this account and the necessary explanations.”

Staes was quoted as saying the Commission had not followed up by asking the member states what the funds had been used for.

In addition, while the tobacco firms had to make payments if their cigarettes were discovered being smuggled, the payments made in 2012 had accounted for only about 20 million of the 3.8 billion cigarettes confiscated in the EU that year. The 3.8 billion figure presumably refers to all cigarette brands seized, as well as counterfeit products.

Hospital staff must be nicotine free

| September 29, 2014

A US hospital has said that from next year it will no longer hire anyone who uses nicotine in any form, a prohibition that includes electronic cigarettes, nicotine patches and nicotine gum, according to a story by Jon Kelvey for the Carroll County Times.

The Carroll Hospital Center campus at Westminster, Maryland, has been a no-smoking zone since 1998, but on Thursday it extended its ban to nicotine products, apparently claiming that such products were as hazardous as smoking was.

Beginning January 1, applicants for positions with the Carroll Hospital Center will be tested for nicotine along with the usual pre-employment drug screening, according to Leslie Simmons, president and CEO of the center.

Those who failed would be offered a free 90-day supply of smoking cessation products: their choice of nicotine patches, gums or other products, he added.

“It is $750, for a 90-day supply, and we would provide that for free,” Simmons said. “We would encourage them to reapply and retest in 90 days. We are not trying to make this punitive; we are really trying to help people.”

It was not clear from the story whether products with niacin would be included in the list of banned substances.

Vietnam to raise special tobacco taxes

| September 29, 2014

Vietnamese lawmakers have agreed to raise the special consumption tax imposed on tobacco, beer and spirits from 2016, according to a story in VietnamPlus.

They accepted a proposal put forward at a National Assembly Standing Committee meeting by the chairman of the Committee on Financial and Budgetary Affairs, Phung Quoc Hien, that a 70 percent tax be imposed on tobacco from January 1, 2016, and a 75 percent tax from January 1, 2018. The current rate is 65 percent.

Vietnam is said to have about 15 million smokers and a death toll from cigarettes that is expected to rise from the 40,000 of 2008 to 50,000 by 2023.

Last year, the prime minister approved a national strategy on tobacco harm control and prevention that has a target of reducing smoking among young people from the current rate of 26 percent to 18 percent by 2020.

The strategy targets reducing the male smoking rate to 39 percent and the female rate to 1.4 percent.

Time limit on cigarette sales unlawful

| September 29, 2014

The European Commission has formally requested that Estonia change its excise duty legislation as it relates to the marketing of cigarettes.

The Commission’s ‘reasoned opinion’ on Estonian tobacco excise was included last week in a memo listing September’s 147 infringement decisions against member states.

The Commission said that in Estonia, a time limit was set for the sale of cigarettes that was linked to the fiscal stamp on the packaging.

Three months after a new tax stamp design was introduced, cigarettes bearing the old design were banned from being sold.

But under EU law, excise duty on tobacco products had to be charged at the rate applicable on the date on which they were released for consumption.

There was no provision under EU legislation that allowed member states to limit the distribution of tobacco products already released for fiscal reasons.

Therefore, this sale prohibition was not justified, the Commission said in its reasoned opinion, which is the second step in EU infringement proceedings.

According to such proceedings, if Estonia does not bring its rules into compliance within two months, the Commission might refer the matter to the European Court of Justice.

Suspected Swazi smuggler shot dead

| September 26, 2014

A man suspected of cigarette smuggling has been shot dead by soldiers near Lugongolweni, not far from the town of Siteki, Swaziland, according to a story in The Times of Swaziland.

The man, a Swazi, in the company of two other men, had allegedly crossed illegally from Mozambique with cigarettes in their car.

He was said to have been shot during a scuffle that ensued after the men had been ordered to stop by an army patrol that had followed their vehicle from a checkpoint that the men had successfully negotiated a few minutes earlier.

The other two men were said to have escaped into the bush.

Party leader brands UK’s standardized pack proposals as “utterly barmy”

| September 26, 2014

Moves to introduce standardized packaging for tobacco products have been labelled as “utterly barmy” by UKIP (UK Independence Party) leader Nigel Farage, according to a BBC News story.

Farage, who called the plans a “counterfeiter’s dream”, was speaking ahead of his party’s conference, which was due to start today in Doncaster.

He reportedly told Asian Trader magazine that he was “totally opposed to tobacco plain packaging with no compromise of any kind at all”.

And he said he was “watching with incomprehension” what was being done to electronic cigarettes. These products had been a huge success and presented a big marketing potential for small shops, “and yet we are doing our best to ban them everywhere”.

Farage added that tax on cigarettes was too high and encouraged smuggling and illegal tobacco products: “It is just nuts, it’s bonkers,” he said.

The leader of UKIP, which has no MPs in the House of Commons but has 24 of the UK’s 73 seats in the European Parliament, said that a “wet middle class” in Westminster and Brussels would also pursue measures against alcohol and sugar, adding: “There is no end to this, absolutely no end to this”.

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