ENVI vote on tobacco directive – what happened, what it means & what’s next

The European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee voted yesterday on the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). The current tobacco directive dates from 2001 and there have been many developments in tobacco control since then including the fact that all EU countries have signed up to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

By signing up to the FCTC, EU countries have agreed to implement various evidence based tobacco control measures, although countries are at different stages of implementation.

ENVI is the lead committee on the tobacco directive and its report with all the adopted amendments will now go forward to plenary, a vote of the whole Parliament, in September 2013.

So what happened with the vote today?

First of all, a number of key amendments that will help in the fight against tobacco were adopted, although some by very small margins (3 votes!). These included:
  • health warning covering 75% of tobacco packaging (plain/standardised packaging across the EU was rejected);
  •  ban on slim cigarettes;
  • ban on "lipstick"' and "perfume" cigarette packaging;
  • ban on characterising flavours e.g. chocolate flavoured cigarettes;
  •  possibility for individual countries to ban the distance sales (e.g. internet sales) of tobacco products, but no EU wide ban; possibility for individual countries to introduce more stringent national provisions e.g. Ireland will not be prevented from introducing plain packaging (intention already announced).

In addition, a number of rather technical amendments relating to further incorporating the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) such as rules on how tar levels are measured, were also adopted.

So those of us who want to fight the public health scourge that is tobacco, which kills 700,000 Europeans a year, were happy with many of the outcomes of the vote.

However (now for the bad news.....), attempts by Liberal MEPs (including myself and my North West of England colleague Chris Davies) to push for better  regulation of electronic cigarettes using consumer regulation, rather than medicines legislation, sadly failed.

The Environment committee voted down (45 to 25) the amendment backed by Liberal MEPs which proposed tightening up and better enforcing consumer regulation applying to e-cigarettes, and instead voted in favour (44 to 27) of regulating e-cigarettesas medicines.

I was very disappointed by the vote on e-cigs as while I understand the desire to make sure that products are well regulated, I believe improvements can be made without having to authorise them as medicines. I would however leave the medicines route as an option for e-cigarette producers who wish to make a health claim (i.e. to say that it helps you to stop smoking as nicotine gums and patches do).

My specific concerns are as follows:

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->In many EU countries, anything authorised as a medicine can only be sold in a pharmacy. So if e-cigs become medicines, in many countries, they will become less available than tobacco, which is not in the interests of public health. Furthermore, pharmacists have mixed views, so some may choose not to sell them.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->The medicines route is supported by the tobacco industry, who hope to move into the ecig market (ecigs threaten their core business massively) and control it. They have huge financial resources so can buy in the expertise needed to get medicines authorisation, which may disadvantage smaller companies that have no link to the tobacco industry. I have no desire to be nice to the tobacco industry!

My nightmare scenario is that e-cigarette availability becomes so poor in some EU countries that ex-smokers get pushed back to tobacco. Just for the record, I do not believe that the medicines route is a de-facto ban on e-cigarettes, but is unnecessary over-regulation.

However ALL IS NOT LOST! The ENVI committee report has to pass through full parliament ("plenary") in September or October and I for one will be working with colleagues to once again table amendments that will regulate e-cigarettes sensibly. I will also then be working on persuading as many MEPs as possible to support those amendments (as I did for the ENVI votes and also in the Legal Affairs Committee). We may have more chance to get sufficient support when the whole parliament votes.

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