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European Commissioner for HEALTH
Speech in the Plenary Session of the European Parliament
Mr President, first of all I would like to begin by congratulating and thanking the rapporteur, Mr Florenz. I think he, and other colleagues here, remember from the very first day of my hearing in the European Parliament, which he chaired by the way, that I have made a very firm commitment: I would like to see Europe free of tobacco.
I think that, slowly and gradually, we are getting there. I would like to thank Mr Florenz for the work and his dedication and the commitment he has to this cause. Also, on a personal note, Mr President, if you will allow me, I would like to wish Mr Florenz a happy birthday. I understand that yesterday was his birthday. I will not mention the age as I do not want to create an interinstitutional problem, but I would like to wish him many happy returns.
I would like to say that we see a trend and significant improvement in the area of smoke-free environments in the European Union, as compared to a situation three years ago where we only had Ireland and, I think, Italy which had just introduced these bans. Now we have a much larger number of states that have adopted these more comprehensive bans, even some with a few exceptions: I shall come to that in a minute. But I believe that we need a joint effort to achieve this – the Commission, Member States and, most importantly, the European Parliament. I shall say that Parliament’s contribution to the Tobacco Directive was of vital importance and I would like to interpret today’s report as support for smoke-free environment policies.
I am also very happy that the report takes a very positive constructive approach to the Commission’s Green Paper, in particular on supporting the Commission’s view that only a full smoking ban can adequately protect the health of citizens and workers. We have to be frank about that. First of all, a comprehensive smoking ban protects from passive smoking, it is a disincentive for people, especially young people, to begin smoking, it is an incentive for many people to quit. It creates, and this is an important factor, a level playing field among the various operators, especially in the entertainment industry, because the exceptions, in order to be effective, have to provide for separate rooms, sealed, negative pressure, separate ventilation systems – all this creates a certain cost that not all operators can meet. It does create a better level playing field and, also, it is easier to enforce when there are no exceptions. We have evidence from the European Union, but also from other jurisdictions which have introduced these bans before us, that there has been no negative effect on the hospitality sector. Actually, in many cases the revenues went up.
Now, for me, what is important is a result. That is what we are trying to achieve. The procedure through which we achieve it is not very important for me, whether it is European legislation, national legislation or regional legislation in some cases, what we need to do is achieve the target. I am ready, and I would be willing to accept a step-by-step approach, provided that at the end the target, and not far away, should be an introduction of a comprehensive ban.
Where are we today? I would like to mention that. We already have total bans in Ireland and the United Kingdom – the whole of the United Kingdom. We have Sweden, Italy, Malta, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland which have already introduced quite thorough smoking bans even with exceptions on the special sealed-off rooms as I said earlier, with separate ventilation systems. France followed this two-step approach, so as of next year will have a similar situation. Then we have the same restrictions, but with more exceptions, when it comes to hospitality venues for countries like Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. We have also proceeded in countries like Germany and Austria, where initiatives are under way already to strengthen existing smoke-free regulations.
We have had a Green Paper as you know. We had a consultation, a debate in the Council and now with the contribution from the European Parliament I am planning to take all these and then decide what will be the next step at European level and what action should be taken. We also have commitments under the international obligation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – all these will be brought together to decide what the next steps should be.
I will go to another point which is included in the report, the Tobacco Products Directive, and I think that is a very important issue. We will produce a second report on the implementation of this Directive later this year and it will analyse the state of implementation of the directive and identify areas that warrant future amendments. It will discuss and will be inspired by the report. Several issues which feature in today’s report will be included in ours, for example those on the regulation of tobacco ingredients, labelling requirements for tobacco products and products and manufacturers’ liability.
I would like to mention two points. One is the issue of the pictorial warnings. As you know, we have created a databank with different photographs and pictures that can be used as pictorial warnings, but I have to admit that it is very disappointing that very few Member States have actually taken advantage of that. I really regret that. To give you an example, I am just going through my notes, we have now only Belgium which has introduced them. Romania will do it from next year and then we have the United Kingdom also later next year. I have commitments from the Finnish and Latvian governments that they plan to introduce these in the near future and that was after many calls and urging Member States to introduce them.
We have many countries outside the European Union, like Switzerland and New Zealand, which signed licence agreements with us so that they can use our pictures and our suggestions so, for me, the situation in the European Union is very disappointing and therefore we are very seriously contemplating actually amending the relevant directive and creating a mandatory obligation to use the pictorial warnings. I also find very interesting the Parliament proposal to have these on both sides of the package. This is something that we will study.
Finally, the application of the implementation of the tobacco advertising ban is now everywhere. We had problems with certain Member States. We managed to sort them out, some through legal actions, others through persuasion, but now that applies equally everywhere. One specific aspect I would like to mention is the initiative we took recently to convince non-EU countries to stop allowing the sponsorship of Formula One events by the tobacco industry.
As you know, we do not have the legal extraterritorial jurisdiction; on the other hand, as these events are broadcast back to Europe they are viewed by the European citizens, they affect young people in Europe, they undermine European legislation and European policies in this area, so I have contacted both those from the private sector involved in this and the respective countries which still allow – there are only three – tobacco sponsorship and host Formula One events. Hopefully soon we may have some positive results but I will pursue this issue.
Once again, I would like to thank the rapporteur, but also the Members of Parliament who are very committed in this effort. For me, and I have said that from the very first day, it is very frustrating that, in the European Union, with the highest levels of education and standards of living, people still die of preventable diseases. More than 600 000 people die of tobacco-related diseases. I believe that this is a lifestyle where we can encourage change.