Other available languages: none
Brussels, 30 May 2013
Tobacco products proposal: Setting the record straight on 10 common myths
Every year, smoking kills almost 700,000 people in Europe and causes millions more to suffer from diseases associated with smoking, including cancers, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Around 50% of smokers die prematurely - on average 14 years earlier than non-smokers. Despite these shocking statistics, nearly a third of EU citizens smoke, 70% having started before the age of 18 and 94% before the age of 25.
In December 2012, the European Commission adopted a proposal to update the Tobacco Products Directive to improve the functioning of the internal market, while aiming at a high level of health protection in Europe. The proposal seeks to discourage young people from starting to smoke by making tobacco products and tobacco consumption less attractive.
In the debate around the Directive there appear to be various misconceptions and myths that are circulating.
Myth # 1: The proposal is about interfering with people's freedom of choice
Adults are free to decide whether or not they want to smoke. To take such a decision, they need – and are entitled to - accurate and clear information about tobacco products and their health consequences.
Most people take up smoking when they are very young - 70% of smokers start before the age of 18. Young people start using tobacco because they think it is cool. They continue because they become addicted to nicotine. Once you are addicted, it is not a question of freedom of choice anymore. It becomes a question of addiction and dependence.
Studies show that pack colours, shapes and openings and tobacco flavourings are especially attractive to young people – young women, in particular. This is why the proposed Directive seeks to ensure that Tobacco products look and taste like tobacco.
Myth # 2: The proposal is not popular with citizens
Evidence shows that citizens largely support the proposed measures. The 2012 Eurobarometer on "Attitudes of Europeans towards Tobacco" showed that EU citizens are largely in favour of most policy measures contained in the Commission proposal. 76% were in favour of putting picture health warnings on all tobacco packaging, 63% were in favour of banning flavours, and 73% agreed with introducing security features on packs to limit sales of smuggled or counterfeit products, even if this increases the price of the products.
Myth # 3: There is no evidence that attractive packaging and flavourings are harmful
The proposal is based on a thorough analysis of available evidence and a large number of studies are referred to in the impact assessment (see chapters 8 and 10). Evidence shows that the purchase pattern of young people is influenced by features that are designed to make tobacco products attractive, i.e. packaging and taste. Compared to established smokers there is less brand loyalty and more “experimenting” among young people. Packages of slim cigarettes are particularly attractive for young women, who are led to believe that these products are less harmful, associated with femininity/elegance and weight loss.
Myth # 4: The new rules will be bad for the economy
This is not true. Governments would see both direct and indirect economic benefits. Fewer smokers will result in direct savings to public health care costs - an estimated reduction of 506 million EUR annually. An additional 165 million EUR could be saved annually from a reduction in productivity losses due to absenteeism or premature retirement.
The effects on employment are estimated to be positive overall: money not spent on tobacco will be spent on other products or services more labour intensive than tobacco production, triggering job creation in such sectors estimated to offset jobs lost in the tobacco sector.
A potential reduction of governments' tax revenues from tobacco products, due to a decrease in consumption, could easily be offset by increased tax levels on tobacco which Member States can decide to introduce. Governments will also benefit from measures on tracking and tracing of tobacco products which are expected to reduce smuggling/tax evasion. For more information, see chapters 4, 6 and 12 of the Impact Assessment).
Myth # 5: The tobacco industry will face a huge economic loss
The truth is that negative economic effects to tobacco companies will be limited. The Commission's target of a 2% reduction in smoking/tobacco consumption over five years would translate into 2.4 million fewer smokers in the EU by 2020. This is significant in terms of improvements in public health and lives saved, but will not significantly impact on the economic actors – i.e. the tobacco growers and industry. To the contrary, the industry will benefit from a certain level of harmonisation across the EU – for example in terms of package and flavours – rather than producing for 27 increasingly different national requirements.
Moreover, the possible losses for the tobacco industry will be mitigated by the measures proposed to prevent illicit trade. For more information, see chapters 4 and 12 of the Impact Assessment). Anyway the industry cannot have it both ways: claiming that all the measures are ineffective and at the same time claiming that the economic consequences for the industry are dramatic.
Myth # 6: Tobacco SMEs will be particularly affected
On the contrary, the proposal takes into account the needs of SMEs. To avoid unnecessary burden for SMEs, it is proposed that pipe tobacco, cigars and cigarillos, which are mostly produced by small companies - and which are not attractive for young people either - are exempt from the labelling and ingredients rules that apply to cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco. Also retailers are not particularly affected as the Commission did not propose any measures limiting display at the point of sale and even the most specialised retailers sell several other products in addition to tobacco. For more information, see chapters 4, 5 and 12 of the Impact Assessment.
Myth # 7: Free trade and competition in the EU will be damaged
This is not true. Most manufactured tobacco products are produced and consumed within the EU. The framework proposed for these products seeks to ensure a level playing field. Therefore there is no issue as regards reduced competitiveness for the EU. The harmonisation will lead to cost savings as products can be manufactured on one production line. In any case, the rules in the Directive do not apply to products destined to be exported (exception: levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide - TNCO), i.e. sold outside the EU. The structural problem of a decline in EU-grown tobacco is not caused by the proposed Directive, but by many other reasons, including the quality of the tobacco grown in the EU and the decline in agriculture subsidies. For more information, see chapters 7 and 12 of the Impact Assessment.
Myth # 8: e-Cigarettes will be banned
There is no proposal to ban electronic cigarettes. The Commission proposal simply seeks to ensure that eCigarettes are safe and of good quality and can be develop as a product to help people stop smoking. Electronic cigarettes should not develop into an entry gate for young people to develop a nicotine addiction and take up tobacco use. This is why the Commission proposes that, from a certain level of nicotine onwards, eCigarettes need to be authorised under existing pharmaceutical legislation. Such legislation already applies to other nicotine containing products (Nicotine Replacement Therapies), such as chewing gums, patches and inhalators. For more information, see chapter 7 of the Impact Assessment.
Myth # 9: Illicit trade will increase
There is absolutely no rationale behind this claim. The proposal will lead to less – not more, illicit trade. It foresees, for the first time in the EU, comprehensive measures against illicit trade such as a tracking and tracing system at packet level and security features. These measures will protect the legal trade in tobacco products, increase consumer awareness, and facilitate market surveillance and law enforcement. For more information, see chapters 4 and 12 of the Impact Assessment).
Myth # 10: Member States cannot introduce plain packaging
The Commission's proposal for picture and text health warnings (combined health warnings) to cover 75% of the front and back of packs does not prevent Member States from introducing plain packaging in justified cases. Member States would have to notify such a measure to the Commission. The Commission will monitor the situation, including "real life experience" (i.e. Australia), legal developments and economic impact and a report on the experiences in this area will be issued five years after transposition of the Directive.
Statement by Commissioner:
For more information:
Follow us on Twitter: @EU_Health