Tuesday 25 June 2013

Tobacco Products Directive - What next?

The last few days have seen some amendments to the EU Tobacco Products Directive which Reuters describes as 'weakening' the legislation. There was always going to have to be room for compromise because the initial proposal was so extreme—and looked like becoming even more extreme after Linda McAvan suggested some loony amendments. There is also the problem that Ireland currently holds the EU presidency and we know that the Irish government is wedded to the failed policies of neo-prohibition. This contrasts with Eastern Europe where the attitude is, as one Polish politician puts it: "When are you going to prohibit us from drinking wine or vodka, or stop us using white sugar? Maybe you will also tell us to go to bed early because going to bed late is also unhealthy."

Insofar as the new TPD is a compromise, the only issues that will meaningfully affect consumers are the dropping of a proposed ban on 'slim' cigarettes and the exclusion of snus from the ban on 'characterising flavours'. The latter is hugely important since a wide range of snus products require flavourings such as mint and licorice. However, this is only of relevance to the people of Sweden since no one else is allowed to buy the stuff and the Swedish government appears to have accepted this concession as a quid pro quo for dropping its campaign to repeal the scientifically insupportable snus ban (Denmark has held steady on this, however). If the anti-smoking lobby really cared about smokers and their health, they would be furious about the ban staying in place. Instead, they maintain their disgraceful silence.

The only other real change is increasing the size of health warnings on packs to 65 per cent instead of the originally proposed 75 per cent. This is a trivial difference and remains well above the 50 per cent that the EU's own legal commission viewed as acceptable. However, the decision to compromise on this issue, albeit only mildly, suggests that the EU knows that branding is really not that important—in contrast to the hysterical campaigners that the UK has had to endure for the past two years.

Elsewhere, the mentality continues to be 'if it moves, ban it'. This includes banning menthol cigarettes (as reported in the New York Times recently, but barely mentioned in the docile British media).

As for e-cigarettes, things have got even worse...

As concerns grow over the unregulated use of increasingly popular electronic cigarettes, ministers tightened proposed controls by agreeing that those containing 1 milligram (mg) of nicotine or more would be classified as medicinal products requiring prior EU marketing approval.

One milligram is an even lower threshold than was originally proposed and it unquestionably amounts to a de facto ban of e-cigarettes as we know them—with far-reaching implications for the future, as I recently explained in Spiked. It seems that the MHRA decision has toughed the Eurocrats' resolve, as expected. Incidentally—but importantly—it is worth reading this recent Early Day Motion which complained about the pharmaceutical industry's influence over the MHRA. Also see Angela Harbutt's article here.

In sum, the Tobacco Products Directive has been slightly modified—in some cases for the worst—but the so-called compromises amount to putting lipstick on a pig. There is still time for MEPs to see sense, but it is running out.

If you are in London on July 15th, join us at the Institute of Economic Affairs where a panel will be discussing the potential of e-cigarettes, snus and other alternative nicotine products to be free market solutions in health. It's free if you RSVP.


Jean Granville said...

"The public health care cost attached to smoking in Europe is an estimated 25.3 billion euros ($33.4 billion) each year, Mr. Reilly said."
Tobacco taxes reap about €70 billion a year in the EU.

Chris Price said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Price said...

JG - to the tax revenue needs to be added the huge savings that government makes from people dying 10 years early on average. The savings on pensions, health costs, social costs and other expenditure must equal the tax revenue. Smoking is a monster money machine and no one who is a beneficiary wants to see it removed - no matter what they say in public. It's easy enough to tell this from their actions, which totally contradict their words.
- Chris Price

Jonathan Bagley said...

Regarding ecigs: In addition to the 1 mg of nicotine per ecig (cartridge?0, for eliquid the proposal is for a limit of 2 mg per ml (when many ecig users choose 24 mg per ml). From the Nicorette Inhalator literature


we have that each cartridge contains 15mg compared to the 1 mg per ecig allowed in the EU proposal. That the product is approved for 12 year olds with a recommended maximum of 6 cartridges a day, we definitely have an ecig ban.

Karl Fasbracke said...

Not too long and the only free market will be Silk Road.

nisakiman said...

It is rather unfortunate that those who have been most vociferous in their support for e-cigs vis-a-vis the evil tobacco leaf have essentially been hoist by their own petard.

By trumpeting the fact that "thousands have given up tobacco through the use of e-cigs", and comparing success rates with NRT, they have put e-cigs firmly in the same bag as Nicorette gum, patches etc. So they should not now be surprised that Big Pharma have eagerly grabbed the baton of 'medicinal nicotine' and run with it.

It is of course a travesty that the EU should seek to make e-cigs a medicinal product, but given the mixed messages (particularly the anti-tobacco ones) coming from many in the e-cig industry, it is not entirely surprising that this is the outcome.

Perhaps if they had confined themselves to touting e-cigs as an alternative, or addendum to tobacco, rather than a quit aid, they would not have attracted the ire of the big players to the same extent.

BrianB said...

Totally agree,nisakiman. I too have been saddened at how many over-enthusiastic 'vapers' have bumbled along, not realising that they were just behaving as 'useful idiots' for Pharma.

I have been quietly using e-cigs for abut 5 years now, but at no time have I ever viewed them as an aid to stopping smoking (I have no such intention).

Indeed, e-cigs remain a very poor proxy for the real thing in my view, even though, with menthol (oh dear!) flavouring they can be quite pleasant in certain situations.

Despite my scepticism, though, I can't help but feel that the EU (and MHRA) are so far behind the curve on this one that they will fail.

Junican said...

The problem is, Brian B, that the EU is playing the old trick whose name I forget. It involves asking for more than you want and then backtracking to the position that you wanted all along. Witness the 'compromises' that Snowden refers to.
What needs to be exploded is the legitimacy of the claim of possible/unknown future dangers as a reason to ban/regulate. That is also a trick commonly used at the moment by TC.
At this time, as far as can possibly be ascertained, there is no evidence of harmful substances inhaled with ecig use. It logically follows, therefore, that there can be no evidence of possible FUTURE harm from ecig ingredients. It is a use of the precautionary principle without grounds for precaution.

BrianB said...

That's all true, Junican. And it's because it is so that I believe that this 'precautionary' prohibition will ultimately fail. When prohibitionary laws are passed with no sensible justification, they cannot be expected to win the consent of the people.

When you couple this with the advice given by the EU Committee for Legal Affairs (Legal, note), then there is every reason to believe that they are over-reaching themselves.

In a way, I hope they do go down this road. At least it adds more fuel to the already healthy blaze of EU-scepticism, and should help to demonstrate to yet more people that the EU is a (text book) Fascist organisation.