Author Archives: Rebecca Taylor MEP

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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Legal Affairs Committee vote on tobacco: good news for e-cigarettes, bad news for tobacco control

The European Parliament Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee voted today on the opinion of Committee chair Klaus-Heiner Lehne (EPP, Germany) on the tobacco directive. JURI is one of several opinion giving committees which feed into the report of the lead committee –  Environment, Public Health & Food Safety (ENVI) .

In a nutshell, the vote went well in relation to the regulation of e-cigarettes, but badly for tobacco control measures designed to curb tobacco use. Mr Lehne agreed with my amendments on e-cigarettes ( with the exception of the one on marketing restrictions, and they were duly adopted.

However, before anyone cracks open the champagne, please remember that this is only an opinion and the crucial report will be the ENVI committee one (vote scheduled for 11 July), which is what will go to plenary (the whole parliament).

In addition, Mr Lehne’s report did not go through with a huge majority as a number of Socialist, Liberal and Green MEPs voted against it or abstained due to the amendments adopted in relation to tobacco control. I personally abstained as I could not vote in favour of an opinion that significantly weakened tobacco control measures compared to the original Commission proposal. Europe is no longer leading the fight against tobacco as countries like Brazil, Canada and Australia steam ahead and see further reductions in tobacco use.

I am unfortunately expecting a tough fight in ENVI to avoid the medicines route or a quasi medicines route for e-cigarettes. I will be working with the ALDE group shadow draftsperson Mrs Frédérique Ries and my North West LibDem colleague Chris Davies to try to come up with a compromise proposal (based on amendments already tabled) that will tighten up the regulation of e-cigarettes sufficiently without regulating them as medicines as to gain the support of those currently backing a pharmaceutical approach. Not easy : (

My red line on e-cigarettes remains that I cannot vote in favour of a regulatory framework that will result in e-cigs being less available than tobacco products. This is not in the interests of public health.

In the JURI committee, the position of the Liberal (ALDE), Socialist (S&D) and Green (Green/EFA) groups on key issues such as health warnings, packaging, characterising flavours and slim cigarettes was very different to the Centre Right (EPP) group. This led to many close votes on such amendments, but sadly virtually each time the votes were (just) lost in favour of a weak approach to tobacco control, which I’m sure will please the tobacco industry.

This is the first time since I became an MEP some 15 months ago that I feel very disappointed with the outcome of votes. Tobacco is a serious public health scourge that kills 700,000 Europeans every year and it demands a strong response.

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Clinical trials committee vote: a good day for transparency!

Today the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee voted on the new EU regulation on clinical trials. The MEP responsible for the report is British Labour MEP Glenis Willmott. The regulation will make it easier for cli…

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European Commission NOT seeking to restrict seeds; another Euromyth busted!

During the last week I have received a number of emails from members of the public expressing concern about European Commission plans to “make seeds illegal unless they are registered with governments”. Many of the people were keen gardeners who feared their hobby was being threatened by the EU.

I am happy to report that this is NOT the case. Last Tuesday in the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, European Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said that rumours of the Commission trying to strangle the seeds industry were UNTRUE and may have been based on rejected drafts and/or rumours.

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How should the EU regulate e-cigarettes?

Background: revision of the tobacco directive

The European Parliament is currently examining the proposed revision of the EU tobacco products directive. The tobacco directive regulates many aspects of how tobacco products can be marketed and sold including ingredients, packaging, labelling, health warnings, pricing, advertising and promotion. 

The aim of the legislation is to make tobacco products unattractive and inform users as much as possible of the health dangers of tobacco, in recognition that these products are so bad for health that they kill hundreds of thousands of Europeans every year. 

In public health terms, tobacco control policies are highly successful and have resulted in falling levels of smoking across Europe and the world:

For more information on the proposal, please see:

As a member of the ENVI (environment, public health and food safety) committee 
 with a strong interest in public health, I am following discussions on the directive closely, although I do not have any official role (my Belgian Liberal colleague Frédérique Ries is the MEP responsible in the Liberal group). 

However, I am following the proposal for the Liberal group in the Legal Affairs committee, which will naturally examine the legal soundness and clarity of the proposal rather than the public health aspects. 

Electronic cigarettes

During the last few years, we have seen the arrival of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) on the market in various European countries. For those who do not know, e-cigarettes are devices that resemble a cigarette or a pen and enable the user to inhale nicotine containing vapour. Some e-cigarette users call their habit “vaping”. 

Supporters of e-cigarettes say that provide a less harmful alternative to tobacco for smokers unable to quit. E-cigarettes contain only nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco, and do not contain the many other components of tobacco including those which are carcinogenic (cancer causing). 

Public health organisations such as Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the UK anti-smoking charity agree that e-cigarettes can be a harm reduction tool for smokers who want to quit but have not managed to do so. 

The UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) will also look at e-cigarettes in its next review of smoking cessation guidelines. 

The regulation question
As e-cigarettes are new products, they are currently only very loosely regulated under general consumer products legislation, which does not take into account their rather specific nature. The European Commission (EU civil service) therefore included proposals to better regulate e-cigarettes in the revision of the tobacco directive. 

What is currently proposed in the tobacco directive would require e-cigarettes containing a nicotine concentration of more than than 4mg per ml to fall under the pharmaceutical legislation that covers nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products such as nicotine patches and chewing gum. This would mean e-cigarette companies having to submit marketing authorisation applications to the European Medicines Agency.

E-cigarettes contain on average a nicotine concentration of around 18mg/ml, with some products going up to 20mg/ml. That means most e-cigarettes would under the current proposed regulatory regime fall under the scope of EU pharmaceutical legislation. 

One solution could be that e-cigarettes producers lower the nicotine levels in their products  so they are 4mg/ml or less. However, e-cigarette companies and consumers say that this level of nicotine is too low to satisfy the nicotine cravings of ex-smokers who have switched to e-cigarettes and could lead to them returning to tobacco. 

Considerations for the regulation of e-cigarettes

It seems to me that maintaining the status quo is not an option, but I am not yet convinced 
that requiring e-cigarettes to get a pharmaceutical marketing authorisation is the way to go

I believe it is necessary to develop a regulatory regime specifically designed for e-cigarettes that will achieve the delicate balance of keeping the products available for existing users who are ex-smokers, while not making the products attractive to new users who do not smoke, especially young people. Very difficult!

I am not sure how best this can be done, but I would suggest that the following needs to be taken into consideration:

  • While it is clear that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than tobacco, nicotine does have some negative health effects, but the long term health impacts of using e-cigarettes are currently unknown;
  • Expanding on the previous point, it may be appropriate to require e-cigarettes to come with a general health warning such as “may damage your health” until evidence is available to make a more precise warning;
  • There are currently no standards in relation to the quality and safety of e-cigarettes, something which needs to be rectified for reasons of consumer protection;
  • The aim of regulation should be to keep e-cigarettes available as a harm reduction tool for adult smokers, while taking every precaution to ensure their use does not “renormalise” smoking and that they are not marketed in a way that broadens their appeal to non-smokers, especially young people. In order to guarantee this, it may be necessary to subject e-cigarettes to marketing restrictions such as minimum age of purchase requirements, forbidding free samples or below cost pricing, a ban on characterising flavours (e.g. chocolate) and advertising restrictions such as prohibiting billboards near schools, daytime TV adverts and adverts in magazines, websites aimed at or read by young people. 

  • Following on from the previous point, e-cigarettes used in public places where smoking is forbidden or in front of children would also contribute to “renormalisation”, so steps should be taken to avoid this, for example restricting the use of e-cigarettes in public places. 

One other point worth mentioning is that whatever regulation is eventually put in place for e-cigarettes, there will be a transition period of several years before it comes into force. This would mean that the e-cigarette industry would have a number of years to comply with the legislation, so there would be no danger of the products disappearing overnight and existing e-cigarette users being left high and dry.

This is indeed a complex issue, with many different viewpoints. I am open to comments and suggestions. 

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International Women’s Day

This week is International Women’s Day and activities are going on all over the UK and the world. International Women’s Day seeks to celebrate the achievements of women and promote the role of women in business and society. Despite progr…

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International Women’s Day

This week is International Women’s Day and activities are going on all over the UK and the world. International Women’s Day seeks to celebrate the achievements of women and promote the role of women in business and society. Despite progr…

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When omission is a lie: The Sun and EU healthcare

We all hear or read EU horror stories in the media. Many are distorted versions of the truth, some are pure fabrication. MEPs spend considerable time refuting incorrect stories, as so many exist. My South East colleague, Catherine Bearder, has even set…

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Cameron’s speech: confused? I am!

Today Conservative leader David Cameron gave a speech on Europe. It was billed as his vision for a better EU with the UK in it, but the reality was somewhat different.

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Tips for young job seekers

I have just had the mammoth task of going through 280 (!!) applications for the role of policy assistant to the European Parliament’s Youth Intergroup. After reading so many applications and having both recruited and been a job seeker in the last few years, I was inspired to put together some advice and tips that I hope will be useful for young job seekers.

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