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Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy
Tobacco Products Directive: Making tobacco products and smoking less attractive
19 December 2012
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, it is my great pleasure to announce that, after an extensive preparatory process, the Commission adopted a proposal to revise the Tobacco Products Directive.
Let me start by reminding everyone why the revision of this Directive is not only timely but an utmost necessity.
Tobacco is the largest avoidable health risk in Europe.
Every year, tobacco kills almost 700,000 citizens : that means a city the size of Frankfurt or Palermo is wiped out of our map every single year !
Smokers die younger : Half of all smokers live, on average 14 years less than non-smokers. And smokers spend a considerable part of their lives in poor health.
Treating smoking related diseases costs – on a very conservative estimate – €25 billion every year. And smoking related productivity losses amount to over €8 billion a year.
The current Tobacco Products Directive is 11 years old, and over recent years, new products, such as electronic cigarettes, have entered the market.
More “attractive” cigarette packages can now be bought and, even more worryingly, smoking has been made more attractive with the use of strong flavours, for example vanilla or strawberry.
Secondly, scientific knowledge has advanced. Studies show for example that large picture warnings work better than small text warnings.
Studies also show that the information on packs of cigarettes on tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide has, in practice, misled consumers into believing that some products are less harmful than others.
As a consequence, the legislation needs to be adapted to the latest scientific evidence.
Member States have started to legislate in sync with scientific and international developments: this is has led to discrepancies between national legislations in the different Member States. There is therefore a need to act to address this fragmentation of the internal market, while aiming at and ensuring a high level of health protection.
Last but certainly not least, the EU and its Member States have signed up to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control agreed in 2005. That means that we all have a legal commitment to comply with its provisions, which cover labelling, ingredients and the fight against illicit trade.
Now, what do we propose?
Our approach is ambitious yet balanced and driven by the following objectives:
Firstly clearer information to consumers about the nature of the product – tobacco should look and taste like tobacco!
Secondly to protect children and young people against smoking initiation. Let me remind you that 94% of all smokers start smoking under the age of 25 years.
In this light our proposal focuses on two key aspects: 1. packaging and labelling and 2. ingredients control. Let me start with ingredients:
The new Directive –proposes to prohibit tobacco products with strong characterising flavours.
It is not proposed – like in Canada or Brazil - to ban completely all flavours. What we propose is a prohibition of certain products that exert a strong and noticeable flavour. Cigarettes that taste like chocolate or like vanilla mask the harsh taste of tobacco and make it easier for young people to take up smoking.
Secondly, we propose mandatory, large, pictorial health warnings on cigarette packages and Roll Your Own tobacco.
These warnings should cover 75% of the front and the back of the packages and should be complemented by further health warnings on the side of the packages.
Cigarette packages should respect certain dimensions to guarantee the full visibility of the pictures. Again I want to be very clear: a tobacco product should look like a tobacco product and not like a cosmetic or candy. My aim here is that people can take an informed decision when they look at a pack of cigarettes by getting the clear message that the product they buy harms their health.
In summary, here's what a pack of cigarettes could look like on the EU markets in 3 or 4 years from now if today's proposal is endorsed by the Member States and the European Parliament
Other issues were tackled during the revision process of the Directive.
For example: what will we do on smokeless tobacco? First of all, the ban on snus will be maintained.
Only Sweden will continue to benefit from its derogation under the Accession Treaty which allows for snus to be consumed in Sweden but also obliges Sweden to take all measures necessary to ensure that snus is not placed on the market in other Member States.
It is well known that snus has adverse health effects, even if it is less harmful than cigarettes. Its cessation potential is not proven by independent studies and the risk of snus as entry gate to tobacco consumption is significant.
For nasal and chewing tobacco, since these products have essentially remained niche products, no prohibition is proposed, at this stage.
All smokeless tobacco products with characterizing flavours will be prohibited.
For nicotine containing products (e-cigarettes) our proposal would see such products containing nicotine above a certain threshold requiring authorization under pharmaceutical legislation, as is currently the case in a number of Member States. For those under the specific threshold of nicotine, health warnings would have to apply.
We also need to act against products not complying with the Directive.
This is why we propose to regulate cross border distance sales, which is an important entry gate for non-compliant products, in particular to prevent under age purchases.
In addition, we propose to introduce measures against illicit products via an EU wide tracking and tracing system and the introduction of security features.
In conclusion, who will benefit from this enhanced legislation?
Everybody will – at least to some extent.
Young people will benefit since my hope is that, in the long run, the new Directive will make tobacco products less attractive and thus discourage them to start.
Current tobacco users shall receive more adequate information about the products, the risks and possibilities to quit, if they wish to do so.
Manufacturers of tobacco products as well as governments will benefit from clearer rules, an improved functioning of the internal market and a level playing field that excludes those that play unfair. The new rules take particular account of the specific needs of small and medium-sized companies.
Governments and society will benefit from a healthier population. I cannot stress enough that while health is a value in its own right, it is also indispensable for productivity and prosperity and thereby a key factor for economic growth.
Today is only the beginning of the legislative process. I now call on the Council and Parliament to act. The ball is in their camp: I am very much looking forward to their reactions and the intensive discussions in the coming weeks and months. And I will do everything in my power to help get this Directive adopted before the new Parliament is elected in June 2014.
I am also convinced that a majority of EU citizens will agree with today’s proposal since the well-being of millions of them is at the heart of this text.
Thank you very much for your attention.