European health commissioner John Dalli has said that the EU must focus its efforts on “young people and whether they really understand the dangers of the tobacco products they are purchasing”.
Speaking at the discussion organised by the Smoke Free Partnership last Wednesday, Dalli said that the true costs of smoking must be understood, calling on member states to take a long term view, adding that he had received warnings from national ministers telling him to steer clear of tobacco regulation.
- Burning cigarette releasing cigarette smoke
“Tobacco products should be presented in a manner that does not encourage or facilitate the uptake of smoking among young people, with the key issue being to reduce the attractiveness of cigarettes”, he said.
The Maltese commissioner said that “cigarette packets, additives and flavourings” are increasingly being used as marketing tools, with flavourings making it “easier to smoke at a younger age”.
Dalli also said he is looking into how to include electronic cigarettes, which he views as being just as bad as traditional cigarettes, in the tobacco products directive.
The event, which looked at standardised packaging of tobacco products, was co-hosted by German EPP deputy Karl Heinz-Florenz and UK S&D deputy Glenis Willmott.
Heinz-Florenz said that parliament’s environment committee had taken “important steps” towards regulation on pictorial warnings and standardised packaging, saying that the commission will be tabling a new report on this soon.
The German MEP promised to start work on this issue “immediately”, but stressed that “the impact assessment is not yet ready” and that there is a need for “serious figures”.
Australian ambassador to the EU Brendan Nelson said that the message that “there is no safe level of consumption for tobacco products” must be spread, adding that even being in the vicinity of those who use the products can damage your health.
Nelson said that the European parliament and national parliaments must be “constantly reminded” of the dangers and costs of these products.
Australia is the world leader in tobacco regulation, having successfully halved its number of teenage smokers, and, on 10 October 2011, voting though legislation regulating the need for larger graphic health warnings and generic packaging.
International expert on warning labels David Hammond stressed that packaging is the “cornerstone” of tobacco marketing.
Hammond said that “plain packaging will reduce the perceived quality of different brands” and removes the possibility of tobacco companies “targeting sub-groups”, such as young women, in focused marketing campaigns.
“Packaging policies are cost-effective, sustainable and their effects are straightforward,” he said.
Céline Brassart, a legal consultant and member of the bar in New York, said that plain packaging legislation would be compatible with EU laws on international trade and intellectual property rights.
Despite tobacco companies owning their trademarks, “this is a privilege not a right”, said Brassart, adding that trademarks can be regulated for “public health reasons”.
Tobacco companies are currently suing the Australian government over its tobacco legislation, but Brassart said that the industry would be required to convince a member state to begin proceedings against the EU on their behalf under WTO agreements.
Regarding contraband cigarettes, Luk Joosens, an expert for the association of European cancer leagues, dismissed industry claims of more regulation equalling more illicit trade.
Joosens pointed to bans in Canada, Ireland and Iceland which had not led to any increases in illicit trading, adding that he felt plain packaging could help in dealing with contraband as visibly recognisable brands are easier to forge.
S&D deputy and co-host Glenis Willmott was highly critical of the tobacco industry for spreading “myths” about plain packaging, before calling for warnings which cover 100 per cent of the packet, as these are “far more effective”.
Willmott also said that the EU’s tobacco products directive should be brought under the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control.
Florence Berteletti-Kemp, director of the Smoke Free Partnership said, “Plain packing is feasible, legal and easily implementable. It does not cost any money to governments and works for public health. There is no excuse not to do it.”