High-tar cigarette export ban ‘likely to be watered down’

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Series Details Vol 7, No.5, 1.2.01, p6
Publication Date 01/02/2001
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Date: 01/02/01

By Laurence Frost

EU Governments are preparing for a possible climb-down over plans for an immediate ban on exports of high-tar cigarettes.

A draft directive on tobacco products adopted by health ministers cuts their maximum tar content by more than 15% - and for the first time the limit will apply to exports as well as domestic markets.

But insiders say the proposals are likely to be watered down in negotiations with MEPs, who voted to give industry six more years to stop exporting cigarettes deemed too dangerous for sale within the EU.

"The message we're sending is that we want to carry on exporting these products while avoiding their dangerous health effects for Europeans," said Green MEP Didier Rod. "It's totally hypocritical. Africans and Asians have the same health problems as the rest of us."

The tobacco industry warns that the move will lead to widespread redundancies. In a letter to Health Commissioner David Byrne, the chairman of British American Tobacco (BAT), Martin Broughton, said thousands of jobs were at stake in the UK alone.

He also raised the prospect of a legal challenge to the legislation which, he said, "seeks to extend its remit beyond the borders of the European Union". More than half of BAT's production consists of export cigarettes exceeding EU limits on tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide.

The MEP who drafted the Parliament's position, Dutch Liberal Jules Maaten, said early indications suggested that ministers would meet its demands for a six-year transition. "I think the Council will give in on this," he added. "It would not be easy for Parliament to make further compromises."

The EU's Swedish presidency hopes to broker a deal on the tobacco directive in time for a meeting of health ministers in March.

But there is still no sign of agreement on other aspects of the wide-ranging directive, including the prominence of health warnings, and a move by MEPs to exempt a wide range of products from the proposed ban on the use of terms like 'light' and 'mild' on packets.

EU governments are preparing for a possible climb-down over plans for an immediate ban on exports of high-tar cigarettes.

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