MEPs have backed new proposals on regulating the sale and marketing of tobacco products but have remained deeply divided on the details.

On 8 October 2013, MEPs debated revisions to the Tobacco Products Directive, designed to bring in larger health warnings on cigarette packages.

The Commission has proposed that 75% of the front and rear of packages be covered with a warning about the dangers of smoking.

However the centre right EPP group tabled an amendment to reduce this to 50% in the end the parliament backed a compromise agreement of 65%.

MEPs rejected a ban on “slim” cigarettes, but voted to ban menthol flavourings, after a transitional period of 8 years.

Opening the debate, the parliament’s negotiator on the directive, British Labour MEP Linda McAvan said the World Health Organisation was reporting a “worrying” increase in the number of young smokers, and she attacked tobacco producers for making some packets look “gimmicky”.

Speaking on behalf of the Council of Ministers, Lithuania’s Health Minister Vytenis Andriukaitis said he “still could not forget the pain and suffering” of both of his brothers dying from smoking related illnesses.

He said that around 700,000 people died every year from smoking, costing the EU more than 500bn every year.

Adopting the revisions to the directive was, he said, a “collective responsibility” of the European Parliament.

‘Insidious’ lobbying

The debate on the directive was postponed from last month, in a move that some MEPs say showed that the parliament was bowing to pressure from the tobacco lobby.

Italian socialist MEP Mario Pirillo accused the tobacco industry of engaging in “the most insidious and deceitful lobbying campaign”.

However Polish conservative MEP Janusz Wojciechowski urged fellow MEPs “not to assume that those of us opposed to elements of this directive are doing the bidding of lobbyists.”

He said there was no evidence that banning slim or menthol cigarettes would deter people from smoking, whilst his Polish colleague Marek Migalski warned of the impact on the directive on the economic livelihood of Europe’s tobacco farmers.

E cigarettes

A key element of the directive was new laws on controlling electronic cigarettes (e cigarettes), which are not currently subject to any EU wide regulation.

The Commission supported by centre left and left wing groups of the parliament wanted to treat e cigarettes as medicinal products, meaning they could only be sold by registered pharmacists.

However MEPs backed an amendment from the liberal, centre right and conservative groups that said they should be subject to the same regulation as “normal” cigarettes, meaning they would be more widely available, but unable to be sold people under 18.

British Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies claimed e cigarettes were a “game changer” in helping people quit tobacco cigarettes.

But German socialist MEP Dagmar Roth Behrendt warned that their ease of availability could lure young people to taking up smoking.

A lengthy and complex series of votes took place at the daily voting session later in the day.

MEPs voted to postpone their final vote on the directive, to give the rapporteur more time to negotiate with national governments to reach a common position.

Useful links

The European Parliament’s disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations can be found here.

Read Democracy Live’s guide to how the plenary sessions work here.

European parliament votes against proposal to regulate e-cigarettes as medicines – nicotine science and policy

Marlboro maker philip morris to enter e-cigarette business

Gerry Stimson 13 October 2013

As the Telegraph put it, The decision by MEPs to reject a European Commission proposal to treat electronic cigarettes as medicinal products was as sensible as it was unexpected .

After months of politicking among MEPs in Brussels, the proposal in the Tobacco Products Directive to treat nicotine containing products (electronic cigarettes) under medicine regulations was thrown out when the European Parliament adopted by 362 to 298 votes to treat them as consumer products. This followed a major campaign by electronic cigarette users.

Other key points agreed by Parliament were

  • to continue the ban on the sale of snus (except in Sweden)
  • the sale of cigarettes in packets of 10 to be banned by 2016
  • all tobacco packs to carry a health warning covering 65% of their surface (down from a proposed 75% and up from 30 40% now)
  • individual package markings on tobacco packs to aid traceability
  • rejection of a ban on slim cigarettes
  • rejection of an immediate ban on menthol, now to be postponed for 8 years

The adopted amendment on electronic cigarettes includes

  • medicines legislation applies where a health claim is made i.e. that the product can be used for treating or preventing disease
  • a maximum limit of nicotine at 30mg/ml.
  • a health warning that nicotine is addictive
  • flavourings are allowed
  • applying the directives on tobacco advertising the products will be subject to many of the same advertising bans as normal cigarettes
  • manufacturers and importers of nicotine containing products submit to national authorities a list of ingredients and emissions
  • a ban on sales to under 18s.

The vote on electronic cigarettes poses a problem for the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which had linked its policy that all electronic cigarettes would need medicines license by 2016 to the TPD. Following the vote on October 8, MHRA and the Department of Health said that it still believed that the products need to be regulated as medicines and will continue arguing for this in further negotiations.

It s not over yet! This is only an early stage in the European legislative process. The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers (which favours medical licensing) now have different positions and compromise negotiations will now take place between Parliament, Council (the EU member states, led by the Presidency) and the European Commission a process known as the trialogue) see if they can find common ground. The Council will then need to propose amendments (probably in December) that it hopes the Parliament accepts. The Directive does not pass unless the Parliament and Council agree.

Many of those involved in the TPD are concerned that the process will run over into January when the Greece takes over the Presidency from Lithuania, and May next year when the current Parliament dissolves.

Watch this space for more information as the EU decision making process unfolds and the UK government’s position becomes clear.