EU ZMK's Diary

Genval, 20th May, 2016 – As of today, the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) has entered into force, and I was wondering whether we really understand what does it really mean for public health? In my opinion, the TPD gives the golden key for Member States to go further in the field of public health and they can become champions of prevention and protection of the health of their citizens.

Why tobacco is a ‘Big Thing’?

With close to 13 million people suffering from smoking-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in the EU, smoking has devastating effects on societies and healthcare systems. In monetary terms, the estimated annual cost of tobacco to the European economy is about 4.6 per cent of the EU’s GDP.

What is the TPD all about?

In brief, it regulates tobacco as a product put on the internal market and applies some restrictions on it following public health purposes.
Among other requirements, it will prohibit the addition of characterising flavours like menthol or chocolate to tobacco (tobacco “should smell like tobacco and should taste like tobacco”, there will be larger picture and text warnings on tobacco packages, ‘lipstick-style’ packs will be prohibited and so on.

Can we read between the lines?

These are important measures, of course but there is an additional element in the directive which should be highlighted: it allows Member States to go even further and to be – at national level – even more ambitious than the EU. The good example for that is the requirement of mandatory packaging. The EU originally proposed a mandatory 75% coverage of packs by picture and text warnings and the final compromise was 65% only. But Member States are free to go further, until 100% (“tobacco plain packaging”) as scientific evidence suggests that this works and can prevent people – especially the youth – to take up the deadly habit.

Article 24

Free movement

2. This Directive shall not affect the right of a Member State to maintain or introduce further requirements, applicable to all products placed on its market, in relation to the standardisation of the packaging of tobacco products, where it is justified on grounds of public health, taking into account the high level of protection of human health achieved through this Directive. Such measures shall be proportionate and may not constitute a means of arbitrary discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade between Member States. Those measures shall be notified to the Commission together with the grounds for maintaining or introducing them.

This is particularly powerful message in the current political cycle we currently live (called “the Better Regulation era“) where legislation became a public ennemy and protection of citizen’s health is immediately considered as burden on business and red tape. I was witnessing recently how low the EU’s ambitions are as regards any potential new legislation aiming at public health protection.

The entry into force of this vital piece of legislation gives us hope that EU Member States can show public health leadership to the European Commission and that the EU will accordingly fulfilling its mandate: to protect the health and well-being of its citizens.

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