Monday, 18 November 2013

The Tobacco Directive & E-cigarettes: Trialogue update

Negotiations between the European Parliament and national governments ("trialogues") on the tobacco products directive have begun and several meetings have already taken place. There is a strong desire to try and reach agreement on the tobacco directive during the Lithuanian Presidency, which runs until the end of the year. 

National governments are represented by the Lithuanian Presidency and the EP negotiating team is led by the rapporteur Labour MEP Linda McAvan, along with the shadow rapporteurs from the other political groups. The Liberal group is represented by Belgian Liberal MEP Frédérique Ries, co-author along with myself and Chris Davies of amendment 170 on e-cigarettes.

After the first trialogue meeting which addressed the issue of e-cigarettes, Frédérique tweeted the following:

"#trilogue #ecig: ça va mal, la Présidence lituanienne ne veut rien entendre, RIEN. Pas un geste, aucune volonté! Je bataille contre un mur"

(translation: "It's going badly for e-cigs in trialogue, the Lithuanian Presidency doesn't want to listen at all. Not a gesture, no willingness whatsoever! I am fighting against a brick wall")

However, along with Frédérique, the centre right (EPP) and Conservative (ECR) shadow rapporteurs, German MEP Karl Heinz Florenz and UK Tory MEP Martin Callanan made it clear that e-cigarettes were a red line for their respective groups. If those three groups (ALDE, EPP and ECR) vote along the same lines, they form a majority in the European Parliament and once an agreement is reached on the tobacco directive, it will have to be approved by the Parliament (a simple yes/no vote).

An agreement on the tobacco directive which is not fully supported by three political groups which constitute a majority of MEPs is unwise, and therein lies the hope for sensible regulation of e-cigarettes.

Since the July 2013 position of national governments on the tobacco directive, which included an agreement to support medicines regulation for e-cigarettes, the ground has shifted significantly. Not only did the European Parliament clearly vote against medicines regulation, but action at national level has drawn this matter to public and political attention. In addition, there have apparently been complaints to the Lithuanians that they are going too quickly on e-cigs without allowing national governments the chance to consider other options.

The key country right now is France, which is believed to no longer be supportive of the medicines route for e-cigarettes (and was reluctantly supportive previously), although no official change of position has been announced. In France, 100 leading doctors recently sent a letter to the French government asking them to act on this issue and push for sensible regulation. It is thought that if France changes its position on e-cigs, this may lead other countries to do the same.

The irony of a Socialist government in France opposing medicines regulation of e-cigs, contrary to the position of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, while a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government in the UK supports medicines regulation against its own MEPs, is not lost on me!

What is needed right now from a UK perspective is to get increasing numbers of Westminster MPs to question the government/MHRA position. Some Liberal Democrat colleagues of mine at Westminster including Norman Lamb MP, the social care minister, Dan Rogerson MP and Lorely Burt MP have been doing this as has Conservative MP Sarah Woolleston, who is a GP.

Along with Chris Davies, I will carry on trying to win over LibDem colleagues at Westminster, but this effort needs to be extended to Conservative and Labour MPs too. I would therefore repeat my previous call for concerned individuals to contact their MP to raise this issue (see previous blog:

It would also be worth noting when you contact MPs that the MHRA is still (as of last week; Jeremy Mean spoke at the e-cigarettes summit in London unable to give more than very vague answers to specific questions about how e-cigarettes could be regulated as medicines. This does not fill me with confidence.....

The battle for sensible regulation of e-cigs is not yet over and can still be won!





Friday, 18 October 2013

E-cigarettes and tobacco directive: what's next?

I am pleased to have played a role, along with my colleagues Chris Davies, Lib Dem MEP for the North West of England, and Belgian Liberal MEP Frédérique Ries in getting amendment 170 on e-cigarettes adopted by the European Parliament (EP) in the plenary vote on the tobacco products directive (TPD).

The EP will now enter negotiations with the 28 EU national governments ("The Council") as part of the co-decision legislative procedure. The Council position on the TPD includes e-cigarettes being subject to medicines regulation, but on key tobacco control measures e.g. health warnings, their position is rather similar to the EP.  

There is now serious time pressure to get the TPD concluded under the current Lithuanian Presidency of the EU and not to run into the Greek Presidency (which starts in January 2014), as Greece is Europe's biggest tobacco producer with a rather weak record on tobacco control.

Frédérique Ries MEP will represent the ALDE (Liberal) group in negotiations with national governments and will push to keep the parliament's position on ecigs in the final agreement. We (Frédérique, myself and Chris) will be consulting relevant experts to find practical solutions to concerns likely to be raised in relation to the regulation of ecigs, but what can activists or concerned individuals do? 

The focus is now on national governments whose health ministers will negotiate the TPD with the EP. I suggest contacting your MP to raise your concerns as well as the relevant Health Minister (for England, this is the newly appointed Public Health Minister Conservative MP Jane Ellison).

Keep your correspondence concise, polite and firm without over-dramatising or being aggressive, i.e. it fine to say "ecigs save lives", but not a good idea to accuse people of trying to kill you. I understand the passion involved, but being aggressive rather than assertive can lead to your concerns being dismissed as hysterical or bullying, or even worse, turn an undecided into a bona-fine supporter of medicines regulation.  

Many of those who support the medicines route seek (as I do) to make sure good quality e-cigarettes reach as many smokers as possible, but they believe (unlike me) that medicines regulation will achieve that.  

In any contact you have, I would suggest mentioning the following (please put into your own words, do not copy and paste!): 

  That ecigs attract smokers in a way that NRT products do not and thus have great potential to reduce smoking rates in Europe. (NB: if you are an ex-smoker who has switched to ecigs, briefly recount your personal story.) 

  The EP plenary voted clearly in favour of regulating e-cigarettes as consumer products (386 votes in favour, 283 votes against, 7 abstentions) and that all Liberal Democrat MEPs and all but one Tory MEP voted in favour of this amendment.  

  The EP position would require ecigs to be correctly labelled including in relation to nicotine levels, institute an under 18 sales ban and allow governments to impose marketing restrictions e.g. ban misleading advertising or that aimed at children/teenagers.

  That medicines regulation would impose additional costs that add no value, e.g. pharmaceutical grade manufacturing facilities and that many SMEs will be priced out of the market reducing consumer choice as well as decimating small businesses.

  That in many EU countries medicines regulation would make ecigs much less widely available than tobacco products, which will benefit the tobacco industry.

A battle has been won, but the war is not over yet.
Rebecca Taylor, Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

EU tobacco directive: delayed vote politics

The week before last, the EPP (centre right group) made a request to delay the vote on the tobacco products directive (TPD) until 8 October (it was scheduled for the September plenary session). This request was supported by the ALDE (Liberal) group and ECR (Conservative) groups and went ahead with agreement of all political group leaders.

Many e-cig campaigners welcomed the delay as they saw it as an opportunity to have more time to persuade more MEPs that mandatory medicines authorisation for e-cigs is not the best way forward.

Following some comments on Twitter, mainly from e-cig campaigners asking why were some people accusing them of being friends of Big Tobacco, I thought it would be a good idea to give some broader background to the situation, which is rather complex.

It is difficult for the tobacco industry to stop tobacco control measures as 165+ countries have signed the WHO framework convention on tobacco control thus committing themselves to implementing various measures. The direction of travel in tobacco control is quite clear, so a key strategy of tobacco companies is to delay.

The Dalligate scandal, which led to the resignation of the Health Commissioner John Dalli in late 2012 and delayed the release of the TPD proposal, is suspected by many, especially public health/tobacco control advocates to have a strong whiff of tobacco industry intervention. Mr Dalli denies any wrongdoing, but what exactly happened is still unclear.

Add this given the timing of when some NGO offices in Brussels were broken into in a highly professional manner and that only documents, USB sticks and laptops belonging to tobacco control staff were taken, it has led some to speculate about who was behind the burglaries.

Neither the Dalligate scandal nor the break in at NGO offices has anything to do with the issue of e-cigs and no-one has suggested they do.

The push to delay the vote on the TPD did not come from ecig campaigners, as neither the industry, public health experts or consumers (vapers) involved had discussed a delay before rumours of an EPP request started to circulate. However, once delaying the vote became a distinct possibility, e-cig campaigners expressed support for it, in order to have more time to persuade MEPs of their concerns.

The EPP group did not ask for a delay on the TPD with e-cigs in mind, their main reasons were that MEPs had not had enough time to read the final ENVI (lead committee) report and that the ENVI committee had not taken other committee opinions sufficiently into account.

The time point is debatable as while several language versions of the final ENVI report were not published until a week before the September plenary vote, the amendments adopted were almost identical to the ENVI compromise amendments, all of which were available in all EU languages prior to the committee vote in July. Admittedly, it is easier to read a final report than read the original proposal and amendments together. However, the same situation will have occurred with other proposals voted in committee in mid July, but they have not all been subject to requests to delay their plenary vote.

It is true that ENVI adopted stronger tobacco control measures than several other committees did in their opinion reports. The issues most mentioned in this respect were the size of health warnings (75% versus 65% or 50%), the ban on slims/menthol (characterising flavours) and the ban on lipstick/perfume type packaging. In relation to e-cigs the different parliament committee opinions were split roughly 50/50 between the medicines route and other options, either consumer or tobacco product legislation. One could argue that as the Committee with public health in its remit, ENVI was likely to prioritise public health concerns.

The ALDE group agreed to support an EPP request to delay the TPD vote on the grounds of the two aforementioned points AND the issue of e-cigs. While the delay was agreed, it is now important the tobacco directive progresses and in a direction that puts public health first.

Public health/tobacco control advocates are now primarily concerned that the delay gives the chance for tobacco companies to throw several million more euros into their lobbying efforts in order to further weaken the tobacco control measures in the TPD (see: here and here)

There is also concern that the delay in Parliament will mean that negotiations with national governments will pass from the Lithuanian Presidency, which is strong on tobacco control, to the Greek Presidency, a country with a poor record on tobacco control and significant tobacco industry operations (on a European scale).

This delay could mean that the TPD is not signed off before the end of this current parliamentary mandate, which could end up delaying the implementation of tobacco control measures for several years, which will please the tobacco industry greatly.

I believe that effectively tackling the public health scourge of tobacco, which kills 700,000 people each year in the EU, requires action on many fronts including tobacco control measures, sensible regulation of e-cigs and of course education. I would therefore like to see the final TPD have sensible regulation of e-cigs AND strong tobacco control measures. A very tough call!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Worried about the overregulation of e-cigarettes and want to do something about it?

Following an agreement among the leaders of the European Parliament's political groups last week, the final EP vote on the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) has now been pushed back to the 8th of October 2013.

Although the vote was not delayed because of the issue of ecigs (contrary to what some ecig campaigners appear to believe), the delay gives extra time for for ecig campaigners to contact MEPs in order to highlight their concerns over the proposals in the TPD to regulate ecigs as medicinal products (like nicotine gum and patches).  

If this affects you or you feel strongly about it, you might consider emailing or writing to the MEPs in your region to express your concern.

If you decide to contact any MEPs, perhaps consider the following points:

  • Make your email polite, concise and where possible add personal experiences. In the UK, it is common to include your postcode in a letter/email (full address is not necessary) to show that you are a constituent of the MEP concerned.

  • E-cigarettes clearly need some regulatory framework and this already exists in EU consumer product legislation. The relevant legislation could benefit from some improvements e.g. under 18 sales ban, marketing restrictions to prevent products being targeted at minors. Suggesting that there is no need to regulate e-cigs or that no improvements are possible may not be best the tactic.  

  • Requiring ecigs to be authorised as medicines is over-regulation and risks two things: (1) that ecigs become less widely available than tobacco products, (2) As many ecigs are made by small and medium sized companies, these companies may decide they cannot manage the costs and complexity of medicines regulation and pull out of the market, reducing the choice of ecig products available. Both these outcomes could push ecig users back to tobacco, which is highly undesirable.

  • The proposal to regulate ecigs as medicines is NOT a de-facto ban, but it is likely to have negative effects (see previous point). If you write to an MEP saying the proposal will ban ecigs, there is a risk you will not be taken seriously.

  • Many of the MEPs supporting the medicines route for ecigs genuinely believe that this will improve the quality and reliability of ecigs on the market, which will be of benefit to smokers seeking to quit tobacco. Telling them that their position will kill people is not the best way to encourage them to reconsider their position.

  • If you or a family member/friend have managed to quit tobacco completely or seriously reduce the amount you smoke with the help of e-cigarettes, outline (briefly) your personal story to show how ecigs can have a positive effect on the health and life of ordinary people. However, take care not to 'overdramatize' your story.

  • DO express your concerns in your own words and do NOT copy any of the points made here word for word. There have been accusations by some MEPs that individual ecig campaigners are actually staff from PR companies employed by ecig manufacturers (so-called "astroturfers"), so an email or letter that is very clearly in your own words is one way of showing that you are indeed an individual citizen expressing your concern.

If you live in the UK, you can find the contact details for your MEPs and directly send them a message here:

Otherwise the contact details of all MEPs can be found here:;jsessionid=9E0F819F9FE68F5160AFA1EF569780AA.node2

I hope this is useful.

Best regards,


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

RIP Brian Harry Taylor: Liberal legend & my grandfather

Brian Harry Taylor, long serving stalwart of Bromley and Chislehurst Liberal Democrats, died peacefully in the Freeman hospital, Newcastle on Monday 12 August aged 93.

Born in Putney, London in 1919, Brian's political sentiments were first aroused against the Brownshirts and their targeting of Jewish immigrants in the East End of London in the 1930s. He joined the Bermondsey branch of the Communist Party in 1937, but was always more of an anti-fascist than a communist. He left the Communist Party in 1939 in disgust at the Hitler-Stalin pact. 

As a student dentist at Guys Hospital in 1943, he met future wife Susan (née Goldschmidt), a student nurse. He then served in the British Army in the Middle East and married Susan in May 1946 after being demobbed. 

In 1955 Brian saw the light and along with Susan joined the Liberal Party; both soon became dedicated party activists in their corner of South East London. Brian first stood for election to Bromley Council in 1956, was first elected in 1957 (allegedly the first Liberal Councillor in Kent), lost his seat in 1960, then regained it in 1962. During this period he was Health Committee Chair, elected by fellow councillors who thought a dentist well qualified for the role. He failed to get elected to the new London borough of Bromley Council in 1964, but was returned via a by-election in 1968. In the 1979 general election, Brian was the Liberal parliamentary candidate for the seat of Chislehurst (now Bromley and Chislehurst). 

With their 12 year old son Michael pressed into service (helping "disappear" Tory stake boards into the boot of the family car), Brian and Susan worked their socks off to get a young man named Eric Lubbock elected to Parliament in the 1962 Orpington by-election. Over the years, Brian and Susan helped out with many by-elections including Sutton and Cheame in 1972, Bermondsey in 1983, Littleborough and Saddleworth in 1995 and of course Bromley and Chislehurst in 2006. 

In their trusty caravan, Brian and Susan toured the country attending by-elections, Liberal party conferences, and helping the Liberal endeavours of son Michael in West Yorkshire, and daughter Wendy in Newcastle. 

In 2007, when Brian and Susan received a long service award from the party, Liberal Democrat President Simon Hughes MP said that not only had they dedicated over 50 years to Liberal causes, but they had also created a Liberal Democrat dynasty with both children and grandchildren becoming party activists. 

Brian never let advancing age stop his Liberal Democrat activism; when no longer able to deliver and canvass, he stuffed envelopes and sorted leaflets. He was also a dedicated federal conference participant, most recently at the 2013 Spring conference in Brighton. 

Brian is survived by his wife Susan, three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

From left to right: Susan Taylor, Rebecca Taylor, Brian Taylor

Friday, 26 July 2013

Time to expose UKIP MEPs for what they really are – lazy & unprincipled

By Rebecca Taylor, Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament
and Petros Fassoulas, Chairman of the European Movement UK

This blog post was first published on

UKIP MEPs are infamous for being not just Britain's laziest members of the European Parliament, but among the laziest in Europe, as figures from VoteWatch and EP Committee minutes have shown (and the Mirror graphically exposed recently).

UKIP MEPs’ excuse for their lack of graft is that their job is to get the UK out of the EU and they don't need to bother with anything else, like actually representing their constituents’ interests in Brussels.

Of course if they were politicians of principle, they could refuse to take their seats after elected. But then they would forfeit their MEP salary and allowances, which they don't seem keen to do. In fact UKIP are on record as boasting about how much money their MEPs claim, for not doing their jobs properly. This not being enough, two UKIP MEPs were jailed for expense fraud and benefit fraud and last year two further UKIP MEPs were forced to repay nearly £40k to the European Parliament after being found to have used allowances improperly.

In addition, UKIP MEPs are far less transparent than MEPs from other UK parties, who publish their expenses on their websites and regularly update them (Rebecca Taylors can be found here).

Mr Farage was caught out by the BBC's Andrew Neil, when he was asked why he and his deputy Mr Nuttall had not published their expenses for 2 years despite promising to do so. Mr Farage was unable to produce a convincing response, saying instead that he was "very busy" and that he had "lost some receipts".

But what does Nigel Farage does while he is in Brussels, paid by British tax payers? Does he stand up for British interests? Does he work on legislation that will improve the life of his constituents? No, of course not, he spends his time not attending committee and not bothering to vote even when issues are important for the UK. European Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt famously accused Nigel Farage of being the EU's biggest waste of money. He has a point. Mr Farage has failed to attend 48% of Plenary votes, has never drafted a report and he is joint bottom when it comes to Parliamentary questions asked.

As the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is important for the fishing industry in the South East of England, the region Mr Farage represents, he has tried to make it look like he was doing something by "campaigning", which seemed to consist of sending out angry press releases. However, he has never bothered to take part in Fisheries Committee meetings and when mammoth cross-party efforts by centre-right, Socialist, Liberal and Green MEPs ensured an historic reform of the CFP, which will end overfishing and safeguard the future of the fishing industry in Europe, Mr Farage was nowhere to be found. He did not even bother to show up to the final fisheries committee final vote (which was very close) and he disappeared halfway through the plenary vote.

In fact, according to Committee minutes, he attended just one of 42 Fisheries Committee meetings between February 2010 and January 2013, when he resigned from all Committees. In fact UKIP MEPs have attended just 30% of Committee meetings.

Which is a real shame and huge waste. The real graft in Brussels is done in committee, so by skipping committee meetings UKIP miss the chance to exert any influence and help shape laws that affect their constituents. They claim that there is no point as they would be outvoted every time, which is patently ridiculous when key votes can (and often do) go one way or another with only a vote to spare.

Committee work requires an MEP to understand the proposal in question, meet with businesses, NGOs, pressure groups, ordinary citizens, trade unions, national government representatives etc. to hear their positions, develop amendments that will not only be workable, but will also get sufficient support from their political group as well as other MEPs, and keep track of the hundreds, sometimes thousands of other amendments. Doing all this properly is hard work and very time consuming, so no wonder UKIP MEPs prefer to prance round the UK making speeches to their followers and sending out angry press releases instead. Much easier!

UKIP's deputy leader Paul Nuttall MEP is a point in case. He is a Member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, but in nearly three years had attended only twice. According to figures by VoteWatch he is 736th (out of 753 MEPs) when it comes to Plenary sessions attended. He is joint bottom both for reports and opinions drafted (actually he hasnt drafted a single one!).

This is again out of principle; he thinks his time would be better used elsewhere. Or he does until he realises he might get some bad publicity as happened recently.

The Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee recently debated and voted on the EU tobacco directive, which included the regulation of e-cigarettes. Like-minded MEPs from several parties worked to table sensible amendments on e-cigarettes and it all came to head in the Committee vote.

Knowing that the key amendment on e-cigarettes required all the votes it could get and that Mr Nuttall never attends committee, e-cigarettes users (some of whom were Mr Nuttalls constituents) were encouraged to contact his office. Some were ignored, some received the same generic e-mail response they had received several months previously, and at least one was told Mr Nuttall would not attend the tobacco directive vote.

They were dismayed and began complaining about him on Twitter. Then all of a sudden Mr Nuttall changed his mind and showed up at the Committee meeting (his 3rd visit in 3 years!), although he didn't bother to vote on many amendments.

This experience was a great opportunity for many voters to realise that while UKIP shout loudly, they do very little else. Many of them expressed surprise; UKIP like to portray themselves as standing up for "ordinary British people"; what they actually do is ignore the very people they claim to represent.

Needless to say, Mr Nuttall's constituents were left unimpressed, but at least they were able to compare the efforts to shape EU laws made by hard working LibDem MEPs (among others) with the blink and you'll miss it work done by UKIP MEPs.

Mr Nuttalls attitude shows that UKIP MEPs are indeed lazy, but only when they think they can get away with it. They claim to be avoiding the hard graft of parliamentary committee work out of principle, but those principles are soon chucked by the wayside if they suspect they will get any bad publicity.

Put under a little scrutiny, especially by UK voters who are vocal, active on social media and in regular contact with broadcast media, and suddenly UKIP MEPs decide that attending EP Committees is not such a waste of time after all.

Time for a lot more scrutiny of UKIP!

Monday, 22 July 2013

My support for the 'Sandwich Protest' against unfair internships in Brussels

Hundreds of trainees working for organisations across Brussels descended on the sunny Place du Luxembourg last week to stage what has been dubbed the 'Sandwich Protest' - a demonstration to raise awareness of the poor working conditions and unfair remuneration of interns.

According to the organisers, a group called BXL Intern, the protest was so called because trainees in Brussels who do low paid or unpaid internships often cannot afford to pay for a proper lunch, and some have to sustain themselves by hunting down free sandwich buffets at conferences and other events.

The protestors' demands were far from unreasonable: a liveable wage, fair conditions, decent work, and an end to exploitation. The sad truth is that due to the current economic climate, many companies, NGOs and even top institutions based in Brussels are hiring interns to do the work of full time employees, paying them either very little or nothing at all, and offering no job stability or any kind of work guarantee for the future.  

Although I was unable to attend the protest myself due to work commitments in the UK, I strongly support the demonstrators and all their demands. Internships should provide a valuable learning experience, which acts as transition between education and professional life. It is disgraceful that organisations are taking on extremely well qualified young people as interns to do full time roles as a purely cost-cutting measure.

Furthermore, unpaid internships simply must  end. Unpaid internships lead to social inequality, as those who are unable to financially support themselves inevitably lose out on these experiences or end up living precariously and running up debts. 

The European Parliament's Youth Intergroup, of which I am a Vice President, is starting a campaign to introduce a set of internship quality standards and minimum level of pay for all interns working in the Parliament. Currently, only trainees taking part in the official Schuman scholarship training programme are guaranteed a salary (around 1200 EUR per month), whereas the payment of all other interns is at the discretion of the MEP or political group for whom they work. We have therefore launched an online survey which will hopefully give us a comprehensive insight into the working conditions and level of payment for interns across the political groups in the Parliament. We intend to use this information as a basis for our campaign.

I will be following the progress of this movement closely, and I am happy to support Brussels intern groups in anyway I can once Parliament reconvenes after the summer break.  

Please note that (naturally) I pay my interns a living wage!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

ENVI vote on tobacco directive - what happened, what it means & what's next

The European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee voted yesterday on the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). The current tobacco directive dates from 2001 and there have been many developments in tobacco control since then including the fact that all EU countries have signed up to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

By signing up to the FCTC, EU countries have agreed to implement various evidence based tobacco control measures, although countries are at different stages of implementation.

ENVI is the lead committee on the tobacco directive and its report with all the adopted amendments will now go forward to plenary, a vote of the whole Parliament, in September 2013.

So what happened with the vote today?

First of all, a number of key amendments that will help in the fight against tobacco were adopted, although some by very small margins (3 votes!). These included:
  • health warning covering 75% of tobacco packaging (plain/standardised packaging across the EU was rejected);
  •  ban on slim cigarettes;
  • ban on "lipstick"' and "perfume" cigarette packaging;
  • ban on characterising flavours e.g. chocolate flavoured cigarettes;
  •  possibility for individual countries to ban the distance sales (e.g. internet sales) of tobacco products, but no EU wide ban; possibility for individual countries to introduce more stringent national provisions e.g. Ireland will not be prevented from introducing plain packaging (intention already announced).

In addition, a number of rather technical amendments relating to further incorporating the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) such as rules on how tar levels are measured, were also adopted.

So those of us who want to fight the public health scourge that is tobacco, which kills 700,000 Europeans a year, were happy with many of the outcomes of the vote.

However (now for the bad news.....), attempts by Liberal MEPs (including myself and my North West of England colleague Chris Davies) to push for better  regulation of electronic cigarettes using consumer regulation, rather than medicines legislation, sadly failed.

The Environment committee voted down (45 to 25) the amendment backed by Liberal MEPs which proposed tightening up and better enforcing consumer regulation applying to e-cigarettes, and instead voted in favour (44 to 27) of regulating e-cigarettesas medicines.

I was very disappointed by the vote on e-cigs as while I understand the desire to make sure that products are well regulated, I believe improvements can be made without having to authorise them as medicines. I would however leave the medicines route as an option for e-cigarette producers who wish to make a health claim (i.e. to say that it helps you to stop smoking as nicotine gums and patches do).

My specific concerns are as follows:

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->In many EU countries, anything authorised as a medicine can only be sold in a pharmacy. So if e-cigs become medicines, in many countries, they will become less available than tobacco, which is not in the interests of public health. Furthermore, pharmacists have mixed views, so some may choose not to sell them.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->The medicines route is supported by the tobacco industry, who hope to move into the ecig market (ecigs threaten their core business massively) and control it. They have huge financial resources so can buy in the expertise needed to get medicines authorisation, which may disadvantage smaller companies that have no link to the tobacco industry. I have no desire to be nice to the tobacco industry!

My nightmare scenario is that e-cigarette availability becomes so poor in some EU countries that ex-smokers get pushed back to tobacco. Just for the record, I do not believe that the medicines route is a de-facto ban on e-cigarettes, but is unnecessary over-regulation.

However ALL IS NOT LOST! The ENVI committee report has to pass through full parliament ("plenary") in September or October and I for one will be working with colleagues to once again table amendments that will regulate e-cigarettes sensibly. I will also then be working on persuading as many MEPs as possible to support those amendments (as I did for the ENVI votes and also in the Legal Affairs Committee). We may have more chance to get sufficient support when the whole parliament votes.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Legal Affairs Committee vote on tobacco: good news for e-cigarettes, bad news for tobacco control

The European Parliament Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee voted today on the opinion of Committee chair Klaus-Heiner Lehne (EPP, Germany) on the tobacco directive. JURI is one of several opinion giving committees which feed into the report of the lead committee -  Environment, Public Health & Food Safety (ENVI) .

In a nutshell, the vote went well in relation to the regulation of e-cigarettes, but badly for tobacco control measures designed to curb tobacco use. Mr Lehne agreed with my amendments on e-cigarettes ( with the exception of the one on marketing restrictions, and they were duly adopted.

However, before anyone cracks open the champagne, please remember that this is only an opinion and the crucial report will be the ENVI committee one (vote scheduled for 11 July), which is what will go to plenary (the whole parliament).

In addition, Mr Lehne's report did not go through with a huge majority as a number of Socialist, Liberal and Green MEPs voted against it or abstained due to the amendments adopted in relation to tobacco control. I personally abstained as I could not vote in favour of an opinion that significantly weakened tobacco control measures compared to the original Commission proposal. Europe is no longer leading the fight against tobacco as countries like Brazil, Canada and Australia steam ahead and see further reductions in tobacco use.

I am unfortunately expecting a tough fight in ENVI to avoid the medicines route or a quasi medicines route for e-cigarettes. I will be working with the ALDE group shadow draftsperson Mrs Frédérique Ries and my North West LibDem colleague Chris Davies to try to come up with a compromise proposal (based on amendments already tabled) that will tighten up the regulation of e-cigarettes sufficiently without regulating them as medicines as to gain the support of those currently backing a pharmaceutical approach. Not easy : (

My red line on e-cigarettes remains that I cannot vote in favour of a regulatory framework that will result in e-cigs being less available than tobacco products. This is not in the interests of public health.

In the JURI committee, the position of the Liberal (ALDE), Socialist (S&D) and Green (Green/EFA) groups on key issues such as health warnings, packaging, characterising flavours and slim cigarettes was very different to the Centre Right (EPP) group. This led to many close votes on such amendments, but sadly virtually each time the votes were (just) lost in favour of a weak approach to tobacco control, which I'm sure will please the tobacco industry.

This is the first time since I became an MEP some 15 months ago that I feel very disappointed with the outcome of votes. Tobacco is a serious public health scourge that kills 700,000 Europeans every year and it demands a strong response.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Clinical trials committee vote: a good day for transparency!

Today the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee voted on the new EU regulation on clinical trials. The MEP responsible for the report is British Labour MEP Glenis Willmott.

The regulation will make it easier for clinical trials to be undertaken in Europe while protecting patients and ensuring greater transparency of clinical trial data.

There have been some misunderstandings on social media today concerning some of the amendments on transparency, leading some to believe that pharma companies were going to be able claim "commercial confidentiality" to avoid publishing clinical trial data. You will be glad to hear this is NOT the case : )

What actually happened was the following:

  • Consolidated amendment 40 (to article 78, paragraph 3) relating to the EU database on clinical trials, which referred to clinical study reports not being considered as commercially confidential information was rejected.
  • Consolidated amendment 41 (to recital 20a) referring to clinical trial data being published in line with EMA (European Medicines Agency) guidelines on transparency, which do not consider information in clinical study reports to be commercially confidential, was adopted.

    • In addition another amendment to article 78 (ITRE committee amendment 61) was also adopted. This amendment states that what is considered as commercially confidential has to be in accordance with EMA guidelines and cannot override public health research interests.

    The ALDE (Liberal) Group voted against consolidated amendment 40 because we considered that consolidated 41 along with ITRE amendment 61 was a better way to achieve the same aims in relation to transparency. These two amendments would not have been adopted without the support of the Liberal group, including Liberal Democrat MEPs.

    The ENVI committee final report on the clinical trials regulation will now go on to be voted by the Parliament as a whole (in plenary session). After that negotiations with national governments will begin.

    Let's hope that the good result achieved in the ENVI committee today will be repeated in plenary and then agreed by national governments. Fingers crossed!

    For the policy geeks among you (I am one, I admit!), here below is the text of consolidated amendment 41 and ITRE amendment 61:


    Monday, 13 May 2013

    European Commission NOT seeking to restrict seeds; another Euromyth busted!

     During the last week I have received a number of emails from members of the public expressing concern about European Commission plans to "make seeds illegal unless they are registered with governments". Many of the people were keen gardeners who feared their hobby was being threatened by the EU.

    I am happy to report that this is NOT the case. Last Tuesday in the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, European Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said that rumours of the Commission trying to strangle the seeds industry were UNTRUE and may have been based on rejected drafts and/or rumours.

    Commissioner Borg explained that under current legislation, much of which dates back decades, all seeds need to be registered, but that the new regulation being proposed by the Commission will liberalise the seed registration system so that among other things:

      There will be no need for traditional seeds to undergo testing.

      Niche seeds made by micro enterprises will not have to be registered.

      Micro enterprises will be exempted from registration fees.

    It is also (of course!) completely untrue that:

      Individual gardeners producing seeds for their own use will break the law and be prosecuted by the Commission (the rules only apply to commercial seed growers).

      The Commission will decide on these rules with no input from the European Parliament.

    What will actually happen is that as the proposed regulation on seeds ( will be scrutinised by the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee before being voted on by all MEPs at the same time as being scrutinised by all EU national governments. In other words, the usual co-decision procedure.

    Unfortunately, due to the poor quality and negative focus of most reporting on EU affairs in the UK media (a mixture of lies, false rumours, wilful misinterpretation and exaggeration, see article by my colleague Catherine Bearder here:, people are rather inclined to be taken in by such stories. It is irresponsible of journalists not to check facts especially when by not doing so, they unnecessarily worry a lot of people, this time British gardeners.

    There is also perhaps another reason why things are misreported and that is so certain organisations can claim they have affected policy change and show how effective they are. Commissioner Borg commented on this by noting that some organisations were claiming a "victory" in "persuading" the Commission to change its position on the seeds legislation, when in fact the position they were clamouring against never existed.