The EU Commission has not delivered opinions on the recent notifications by Ireland and the UK relating to the introduction of standardized tobacco packaging.
Legislation requiring the imposition of such packaging has been passed by Ireland, and has been passed by the UK’s lower house in respect of England.
Tobacco companies have said they will sue the Irish government over the legislation and have threatened to sue the UK government if it is passed there in the upper house.
The Commission declared that it had not delivered opinions on the notifications in answer to a question from the Hungarian MEP, Norbert Erdős, who had asked a series of questions relating to the future of the European leaf tobacco producing sector.
His second question asked: ‘How will the Commission guarantee that generic (neutral) packaging does not lead to a price war between processers, who will do anything to maintain their market position, pushing down procurement prices for raw materials, thus squeezing out better quality tobacco?’
In reply, the Commission said that if a member state planned to introduce any provision on technical standards and regulations, it had to notify the Commission of the draft legislation. ‘It is assessed under Directive 98/34/EC which is a tool for assessing its compliance with EU law before adoption,’ the Commission said. ‘The assessment is based on information provided, scientific studies and impact assessments relating to various stakeholders. The Commission did not deliver an opinion on the recent UK and Irish notifications relating to plain packaging.’
Erdős had asked also what effect would the ending of EU subsidies for tobacco production have on smoking and on public health. And how did the Commission propose to prevent imports of less tightly controlled or illegally imported tobacco from gaining ground?
In reply, the Commission said that it could not pursue policies that encouraged leaf tobacco production, while at the same time aiming to protect citizens from the hazardous effects of tobacco consumption. Direct subsidies for production of tobacco had been phased out. ‘The Commission is committed to fighting the illicit trade in tobacco products together with member states and has presented its strategy in June 2013,’ it said. ‘Also the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) contains strict measures in this respect.’
Finally, Erdős asked how the Commission proposed to resolve the issue of employing the mostly unskilled people who had lost their jobs thanks to the phasing out of tobacco production.
The Commission said that with any structural changes in tobacco production the EU rural development policy offered numerous instruments that provided financial assistance for the re-orientation of the tobacco sector towards alternative sources of income. ‘Provided that the workers’ redundancies can be linked to trade related globalisation or to the global financial and economic crisis, member states have the possibility to apply for support from the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF),’ the Commission said.