26th May 2020

MEPs set up anti-tobacco group

A cross-party handful of MEPs have set up a group to tackle tobacco lobbying and its influence on policy-making.

Launched earlier this week, the group is headed by French centre-left Gilles Pargneaux who co-chairs the parliament’s environment committee.

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  • An average of 1,900 people in Europe die everyday from tobacco-related illnesses (Photo: Corporate Europe Observatory)

Pargneaux in a statement earlier this week said the group was set up, in part, because of the tobacco lobbying scandal that saw former EU health commissioner John Dalli forced out office.

The Maltese commissioner was ousted over his alleged involvement in a bribery attempt to lift the EU-wide ban on the sale of mouth tabocco snus.

A number of MEPs in Pargneaux’s group, including French Green Jose Bove, say tobacco companies had orchestrated Dalli’s dismissal in the run-up to European commission’s revised proposal on tobacco in 2012.

Dalli has maintained his innocence and has since taken the European commission to the European Court of Justice. The case is still on-going.

But MEPs at the time spoke of intense lobbying by big firms like Philip Morris International (PMI), American British Tobacco, and Japan Tobacco.

Pargneaux says the three companies had employed around 200 lobbyists with a combined budget of €5 million to weaken the directive.

His plan now is to make sure member states meet the May 2016 transposition deadline of the new EU law and that they respect the World Health Organisation’s convention that bans politicians from meeting industry representatives in secret.

Pargneaux’s group are also targeting the contra-band agreements signed by the EU with PMI and others. The deals require the companies to pay large sums of money to member states to tackle cigarette smuggling.

PMI and the EU signed a deal in 2004 that requires the multi-national to disperse some €1.2 billion over a 12-year period.

The deal was hammered out with European commission, which then dropped a court case against PMI for its failure to prevent cigarette smuggling.

Similar deals were signed with Japan Tobacco International (December 2007), British American Tobacco (July 2010) and Imperial Tobacco Limited (September 2010).

All together, the firms will pay out some €2.5 billion up until 2029.

British American Tobacco at the time said the agreement shows they are committed to fighting the illicit trade in tobacco. Under the terms of the pact, the firm will have to pay some €134 million to combat the black market trade.

Last year year, the UK fined the company €820,000 for oversupplying cigarettes into the low-tax Belgium market.

Pargneaux expects some 40 MEPs will join the group. Their first meeting is set for the end of April.

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