February 13, 2014
Sad, but true: Europe lost its leadership in the world, as regards tobacco control. Despite the not strong enough, weakened Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), Member States still have the opportunity to go further and put Europe back on the right track of tobacco control.
(Source of the photo Official website of the Lithuanian EU presidency © author: AFP/Scanpix)
Is Tobacco really that bad?
Yes, it is. Scientific evidence is on the table: smoking leads to cardiovascular diseases. Smoking is by far the most important preventable cause of cancer in the world and far the most important risk factor of Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which is a serious lung disease that gradually makes it harder and harder to breathe.
How can the EU regulate Tobacco products and why?
The legal basis of the TPD is the internal market clause, but the Commission should ensure a high level of health protection. That is why it was up to the Health Commissioner to put forward a proposal
(ex Article 95 TEC)
1. Save where otherwise provided in the Treaties, the following provisions shall apply for the achievement of the objectives set out in Article 26. The European Parliament and the Council shall, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure and after consulting the Economic and Social Committee, adopt the measures for the approximation of the provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States which have as their object the establishment and functioning of the internal market.
3. The Commission, in its proposals envisaged in paragraph 1 concerning health, safety, environmental protection and consumer protection, will take as a base a high level of protection, taking account in particular of any new development based on scientific facts. Within their respective powers, the European Parliament and the Council will also seek to achieve this objective.
Why did the EU lost its ambitions on Tobacco Control?
There are powerful, vested interests which prevented the EU to follow the scientific evidence aiming at saving European citizens from disastrous diseases mentioned above. Those interests were powerful enough to remove the former Health Commissioner, John Dalli (Dalligate), and although they could not prevent – at least so far – the timely adoption of the TPD, they achieved that the final text was painfully weakened and watered down. While countries like Canada or Australia are leading the fight against the tobacco epidemic, even, if the EU manages to adopt the TPD Europe lost its leadership for a decade.
Is there still hope?
Yes it is. Individual Member States can save Europe’s renomee and put the old continent back at the top of public health leader regions of the world. In that regard nations of the Irish and British Islands (Ireland, United Kingdom, Scotland) are taking the leading role. This means for me that these countries are in that regards much more European than others who would like to blame them. Please, follow first the leading public health example before putting out any kind of harsh critic on “splendid isolation”.
On January 23, 2014 the Ireland’s Health Children Committee began public hearings on proposed Plain Packaging legislation contained in the “Public Health (Standardised packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2013.
The Scottish Government is pressing ahead with plans to introduce tobacco plain packaging, with a consultation on next steps planned early next year.
And most recently, the United Kingdom intends to ban smoking in cars with children since Smoke fumes in a car are 11 times more concentrated than in open space.
How can they do it?
The first step is to have the revised TPD adopted. For that, both the European Member States and the European Parliament should vote on the text. It is very important, since still a weak TPD is much better than preserving the old TPD (which dates back to 2001!) without any substantial modification.
The second step should be to adopt stronger national regulations – based on the new TPD. Although the latest version of the TPD is as weak as it is, it had open the window of opportunity to change the tendency in its article 24, by allowing member states to going further.
2a. This Directive shall not affect the right of a Member State to maintain and introduce further requirements, applicable to all products placed on its market , in relation to standardisation of packaging of tobacco products, where it is justified on grounds of public health, taking into account the high level of protection 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. They shall be notified to the Commission together with the grounds for maintaining or introducing them.
Why is the possibility of stricter national tobacco control measures is so crucial for European citizens?
Because it can put the European legislation back to the right track and would result a more robust, evidence based, European Tobacco legislation in the future. The more European countries follow the leading example of scientific evidence based tobacco control policy, the more healthy lives can be saved. The sooner we reach the critical number of member states going beyond the not strong enough European role the sooner a new revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) will happen which could lead at the end a renewed European tobacco leadership.
I remain at your disposal.
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Related earlier updates:Hungarian-European Citizen for Better Health