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26th Aug 2019

Tobacco giant spent up to €1.25mn on EU lobbying in 2012

Tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) was said to have spent €1.5 million on lunches and dinners in an effort to woo MEPs into weakening the revised EU legislation on tobacco products up for a vote at the next Strasbourg plenary. This allegation turned out to be false.

The figure, unveiled on Thursday (3 October) by the co-leader of the Green group, German MEP Rebecca Harms, covered meetings in the past year with around a third of the entire European Parliament.

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  • Harm says PMI spent over a million to wine and dine MEPs (Photo: Chris Chapman)

“The Philip Morris experience I would say for this parliament is a very dark experience,” she said.

PMI told this website the broader allegations of heavy lobbying are false. In a press statement, PMI estimated costs between €1 million to €1.25 million for representing PMI’s interests to EU institutions in 2012.

Harms on Friday (4 October) had misspoken. Her office told this website that she intended to quote the €1 million to €1.25 million from the transparency register and that the figure includes all lobbying efforts and not just wine and food.

Meanwhile, the vote on the directive, initially scheduled for early September, is said to have been delayed following intense lobbying by the company in an effort to push legislative deliberations into the upcoming and more tobacco-friendly Greek EU presidency.

Harms, along with the Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter who co-chairs the public health committee, told reporters in Brussels that amendments tabled by mostly centre-right, conservative, and some liberal MEPs align with a PMI wish-list of five main legislative changes.

The list includes removing a ban on menthols, having health warnings only at the bottom of the pack, easing restrictions on next-generation products like e-cigarettes, and reducing the size of warning labels.

The company also wants to remove several so-called delegated acts, preventing EU lawmakers from more easily updating the directive after it becomes law.

Among the MEPs to have scripted pro-tobacco text is Polish centre-right Jolanta Hibner, who tabled an amendment, prepared with other deputies, to remove the ban of menthol.

She told this website that menthol is a commonly used food additive.

“It is widely used in products like toothpaste, and there are no proofs of its harmfulness,” she said in an email.

Poland is one of the biggest producers and consumers of menthol cigarettes.

She noted that the Polish position both in the European Parliament and among the member states is to remove the ban proposed by the European Commission.

She added: “I did not have any meetings with representatives of the tobacco industry.”

Critics say menthol is a facilitator to get young people to smoke because it reduces the coughing reflex.

PMI, which says it generates some €14.6 billion in tax revenue in the EU, has cornered more than half of the menthol cigarette market.

It says the ban on menthol and slims, proposed by the directive, will create an illicit market.

Centre-right German MEP Renate Sommer, for her part, said her decision to remove the delegated acts in the directive “has absolute nothing to do with the Philip Morris position.”

Sommer says the decision is meant to rein in the powers of the commission.

“We only have the right to veto a delegated act decision by the commission,” she told this website.

She noted that the obstacles to achieve a majority for a veto are high.

“Additionally, we are not allowed to change the text of proposals brought forward via delegated acts through the tabling of amendments,” she said.

Sommer, in a list she sent to this website, notes that she spoke to British American Tobacco and around a dozen other representatives.

She has also received letters from Philip Morris, the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association and the Smoke Free Partnership, among many others.

E-cigarettes with tobacco

Meanwhile, PMI plans to invest between €500 million to €600 million on one or two factories to develop the next-generation product in Europe, set for market entry in 2016 or 2017.

“Some of the products under development contain tobacco and some do not,” PMI told this website in an email.

Schlyter says the plan is to make a hybrid e-cigarette that contains some tobacco.

The revised directive splits next-generation products into two articles.

One concerns new products that contain tobacco and the second involves nicotine-only products like e-cigarettes.

He says PMI lobbied heavily on the new tobacco product article because it plans on developing the hybrid e-cigarette.

“There is a big risk that we will lose the e-cigarette vote to this consumer legislation,” he said.

This article was updated on Friday 4 October at 15.10 local time to include a PMI press statement on how much the company spent on EU lobbying in 2012

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