Watered down tobacco directive approved by MEPs

MEPs approve report on Tobbaco Products Directive, however a number of European Commission proposals are defeated.

EU health commissioner Tonio Borg made his case to MEPs to vote for the Tobacco Products Directive
EU health commissioner Tonio Borg made his case to MEPs to vote for the Tobacco Products Directive

EU lawmakers today voted on new measures aimed at deterring young people from smoking tobacco, but the Commission's proposal to have large health warnings on 75% of tobacco packages was defeated, as was the proposal to make e-cigarettes a medicinal product, making them only available over the counter at chemists.

MEPs approved the first reading of a draft tobacco directive which could become law in 2014. The vote was preceded by an intense lobbying of MEPs by the tobacco industry, as well as health campaigners.

The vote was welcome by European health commissioner Tonio Borg, who said that the amended text would now go for negotiations between the Council and MEPs.

Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola said she voted for the final report.

After Tuesday's vote there will be further negotiations with the Council - the grouping of relevant EU ministers. Once agreed, all 28 EU countries will have to make the measures law. MEPs may manage to avoid a second vote and fast-track the legislation so that it is adopted before the May 2014 European elections.

Among the amendments moved today, MEPs voted against having pictorial warnings covering 75% of cigarette packages, as proposed by the Commission. Instead the warnings will cover 65% of packages and placed at the top of tobacco produce.

Moreover, menthol flavoured cigarettes have been banned with possibility for a five-year derogation, while a proposed ban on slim cigarettes was defeated.

The Commission's proposal to treat e-cigarettes as medicinal products, demanding tougher regulation was defeated and these products can be flavoured.

Cigarette packages cannot contain less than 20 cigarettes and the ban on the chewing tobacco known as snus, was maintained.

Before todays vote the EU's health Commissioner Tonio Borg said he was "confident" that the European Parliament would adopt the hotly-debated tobacco directive, after the first vote had been delayed. 

Today the European Parliament voted on whether a pictorial health warning covering 75% of a cigarette package, front and back, should be mandatory across the EU.

Furthermore, MEPs also voted on regulating the increasingly popular e-cigarettes and banning slim cigarettes aimed at young women.

The European Parliament was supposed to vote on the tobacco directive on 10 September, but leaders of the main centre-right political groups in the Parliament, the European People's Party (EPP), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the European Conservatives and Reformist Group (ECR), colluded to postpone the vote until 8 October.

According to leaked documents to the press, tobacco giant Philipp Morris has spent more than €500,000 employing 161 lobbyists and organising meetings with a third of the MEPs in parliament.

"I am long standing member in the Parliament. I've never seen such a lot of pressure and the tools they use are very complicated and very tricky," MEP Karl-Heinz Florenz, centre-right European People's Party group told euronews.

The Greens are denouncing the gifts many of their MEPs have received from tobacco companies. The party has written to the President of the European Parliament asking for a review of the Code of Conduct for MEPs.

"The aim of our letter to the President is to make sure that the Parliament implement what the EU is a party to, the international framework Convention of Tobacco control, which says that you should not meet the tobacco industry unless strictly necessary. If you do, everything must be transparent," explained Green MEP Carl Schlyter.

Former Commissioner for Health John Dalli resigned last year, after an anti-fraud inquiry linked him to an attempt to influence tobacco legislation.

The directive has been shrouded in controversy, with former EU Health Commissioner John Dalli blaming his efforts to introduce the new legislation, which stands to cost the powerful tobacco industry billions of euros, were, hampered and delayed time and time again until he was ultimately forced out of the Commission.

Twelve years after the current directive came into force, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the EU, killing around 700,000 people per year.

Measures taken over the years to cut smoking have had an impact - in the past decade the number of smokers has fallen from nearly 40% in the EU 15 in 2002 to 28% in the EU 27 in 2012 - but tobacco consumption is still a major burden on healthcare systems and the economy.

The rules laid down in 2001 were no longer seen as adequate by the European Commission. New flavourings and packaging used to make some tobacco products more attractive was among the Commission's main concerns.

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http://euobserver.com/agenda/121672 Intensely lobbied tobacco law to be voted THIS WEEK http://euobserver.com/institutional/121657 Tobacco giant spent €1.5mn to wine and dine MEPs
Yanika Chetcuti
Is this why they managed to replace hawkish Dalli with softish Borg? Or Borg was given no chance at all to pull at Dalli's strong reins? Whatever the case, local PN politics helped this turn of events in favour of the killer tobacco industry. Thanks Lorry, Ritchie and Xmun.
Raymond Mintoff
Directive watered down, wasn't this the accusations aimed at John Dalli who was alleged to be involved in bribe to do just that?
So the Tobacco Lobby won after all. I wonder how many MEPs (not excluding Maltese) have been bribed by the lobby to defeat the motion proposed by Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, and as previously hammered into place by ex-Health Commissioner John Dalli who was framed in the process to get him out of the way. I wonder whether John Dalli would have been more forceful and convincing than Tonio Borg and whether he would have had enough success to stop the bribing of MEPs. It is disgraceful that MEPs and Commission members are so prone to bribes when they receive such massive salaries that you and me would get in a lifetime. I just point to one line by the Greens: The Greens are denouncing the gifts many of their MEPs have received from tobacco companies.
If Phillipp Morris, the tobacco giant has spent half a million euros in presents to MEPs to vote against the Tobacco Directive that John Dalli was championing, is it a wonder that they would spend money to bribe OLAF and members of the Commission to get rid of Dalli? This is proof, if there was need of any, that Dalli was saying the truth and OLAF, with the implant from Malta receiving instructions from the PN KLIKKA, were embroiled in the perpetration of the most heinious crime they could stoop to - framing an EU Commissioner. Money comes before everything else, even if millions of young (700,000 EU citizens every year) die of tobacco-related causes. The campaign of the PN now is equally revolting because all they care is political mileage at any cost, at all costs, truth or no truth.
Janice Sant
Nispera li MEP's wont let us down. Hopefully, when money talks, MEP's wont listen! If the MEP's vote in favour of the Tobacco lobby it would prove Dalli right!
roderick degiorgio
As everybody can see,tobacco companies don't care about killing people of LUNG CANCER.
anna calleja
I hope the media reports on how each of our MEPs voted on this motion so that we can take it into consideration when we go to cast our votes in the next election. This is a very serious issue.

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