After three years of tortuous debate, the European Parliament voted and passed the Tobacco Product Directive by 514 votes to 66. Certainly, the sacking by Manuel Barroso of Maltese Health Commissioner John Dalli for allegedly soliciting a bribe of €60 million from a Swedish snus manufacturer did nothing to speed matters up.
The main points of the TPD are:
- Banning the sale of packs of ten cigarettes and small pouches of tobacco
- Health warnings to cover 65 percent of the front and back of all packaging
- Banning of flavours like menthol
- Minimum sized packets
- Allows member states to ban internet sales, specifically aimed at electronic cigarettes
- Regulation of electronic cigarettes
- Continuing ban on Swedish snus, a tobacco-based alternative to smoking
Controversially, the speaker of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, banned MEPs from voting on the individual aspects of the legislation. They had to vote for it all or none. This had important wider implications on the harm-reduction clauses.
Whether this will lead to a reduction in smoking, and especially in youth smoking, will take a decade to quantify. Europeans remain addicted to the weed: smoking rates have remained static and some countries, like Greece, have actually seen a rise in smoking.
Ireland banned packs of ten cigarettes in July 2009 and still has very high levels of youth smoking. Overall smoking rates have gone up too from 29 percent to 33 percent of the adult population in 2013.
However, the people most exasperated are the ‘vapers’, those who smoke electronic cigarettes (e-cigs). The British MEPs of all parties were most keen to stymie the clauses on e-cigs, as there is increasing evidence that many long term and heavy smokers have quit in greater numbers by using these than by going cold turkey or using nicotine replacement therapy.
Parliament has banned the concentrations of nicotine allowed in refills, where the need for the drug subsides. One ‘vaper’ suggested it will make e-cigs like “sucking on a straw.”
Also, snus remains illegal outside Sweden. It looks like a very small tea bag, and is put on the upper lip and gum. It contains moist tobacco, allowing the nicotine to be absorbed.
For those who believe in reducing the harm of smoking tobacco, these regulations are very much an oxymoron. With snus, Sweden has the lowest rates of smoking, lung, lip, mouth and oesophageal cancer in Europe.
Along with the restriction of e-cigs, those who believe in harm-reduction think this is a very retrograde step and will keep people smoking tobacco.
Clive Bates, former head of Action on Smoking and Health, and now running his own e-cig advocacy and consulting practice The Counterfactual, said to me today that “…e-cigarettes have never killed anyone, the legislation was poorly designed, and a pointless restriction.”
Many will comment that this is a piece of legislation that will alienate further many EU citizens, and confirms the chasm between voters and Brussels.