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14th Apr 2024

Tobacco lobbying derails MEP vote

  • The EU commission says 700,000 people die each year from tobacco-related illnesses in the EU (Photo: Eva the Weaver)

Intense tobacco lobbying in Brussels may have derailed a key vote among Euro-deputies to restrict the sale and distribution of the product.

Deputies were set to vote on a tobacco products directive this week in a wider effort to reduce the number of tobacco-related deaths.

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Some 700,000 people in the EU die from tobacco-related illnesses every year.

But documents revealed by UK weekly the Observer on Sunday (8 September) say tobacco giant Philip Morris hired 161 people to combat the legislation.

Other pro-tobacco campaigners also lobbied in the lead-up to the vote, which is now set for 8 October.

A so-called Save E-cigs Campaign launched an Internet petition to pressure the EU lawmakers from regulating e-cigarettes as a medicinal product, limiting their sales and distribution.

Former Fine Gael aides are also on the case. The Irish Times reports some are now working as public relations advisers to the tobacco industry in Ireland, Britain and Brussels.

The delay could push the legislative cycle into next year under the Greek EU presidency, which is seen as pro-tobacco, reports the Guardian newspaper.

The directive calls for larger warning labels on cigarette packages, a removal on flavours like strawberry, vanilla and menthol that appear to target young people, and a ban on slim cigarettes and slim packages.

The proposal also says electronic cigarettes should only be sold as medicinal product.

Around half of the member states have laws that say nicotine is a medicine and cannot be approved unless sold as a medicine.

The parliament’s lead negotiator on the file, UK centre-left MEP Linda McAvan, has supported the commission’s proposal to prevent young people from taking up the habit in the first place.

Her report says despite an overall fall in the number of smokers, the prevalence rates among young people between the ages of 15 to 25 are higher than for the population as whole.

“We know that children, not adults, start smoking: 70 percent of smokers begin before their 18th birthday, many younger still,” notes the report.

The deputy’s proposal set for the vote made some changes to the commission’s original draft.

It exempts cigars, cigarillos, pipe tobacco and water pipes from the commission’s scope to ban all tobacco products, which contain the ‘characterising flavourings’.

McAvan also wants stricter labelling on ‘roll your own’ tobacco by proposing a form of standardisation, which removes overt branding from the packaging.

Her report states e-cigarettes not authorised as medicines cannot make claims that they help people kick the habit.

She says a further study is required to pool the evidence to demonstrate whether or not e-cigarettes help people stop smoking or encourage others to take up the habit.

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