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: http://www.writetothem.com/

Otherwise the contact details of all MEPs can be found here:

I hope this is useful.

Best regards,