Plans for tougher EU controls on tobacco face rough ride

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Series Details Vol.5, No.1, 7.1.99, p3
Publication Date 07/01/1999
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Date: 07/01/1999

By Myles Neligan

Long-awaited European Commiss- ion proposals for further restrictions on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco, originally expected last month, are now unlikely to be unveiled before the end of February.

Officials working for Health Commissioner Pádraig Flynn believe their counterparts in other Commission departments are likely to raise objections to key aspects of the draft proposals during internal consultations later this month, resulting in considerable delays before an acceptable compromise is reached. "Agreement from the other services is unlikely," admitted one senior Flynn aide.

The proposals now under discussion would force manufacturers to print larger and stronger health warnings on tobacco packaging, and reduce the tar and nicotine content of cigarettes. They would also have to declare what non-tobacco ingredients had been added to their products.

With the tobacco industry already voicing strong opposition to the move, Flynn's latest initiative looks set to generate as much controversy as the Commission's earlier proposal for an EU ban on tobacco advertising, which national governments agreed to in late 1997.

Flynn's staff are anticipating objections from other Commission departments over the new health warnings and the regulation of additives, which would pose considerable problems for the industry.

Critics of the proposals point out that the Commission does not have the legal authority to introduce public health measures, and accuse it of attempting to get around this limitation by presenting the initiative as a bid to harmonise existing national tobacco laws under EU single market legislation.

"It is a re-run of the tobacco advertising debate," said Bas Tonnaer, EU affairs manager at the European Smoking Tobacco Association. "They have seen that it worked once and now they are trying it again."

The Commission pushed through its proposed advert ban by arguing that existing restrictions in some Union countries constituted an obstacle to the single market for advertising.

But Flynn was heavily criticised for introducing public health measures by the back door, with Council of Ministers legal experts arguing that the Commission was going beyond its remit.

Institution officials argue that as some member states, including Germany, have introduced national restrictions on additives and nicotine content, this latest initiative is a justifiable bid to complete the single market for tobacco products.

They also insist that EU smokers, half a million of whom die of smoking-related illnesses each year, are entitled to better information on the contents of cigarettes. "I can't think of another product about which consumers are so ill-informed," said one.

But with the current Commission team due to step down in December, Flynn's officials are keen to avoid lengthy internal disputes over the initiative. This makes it likely the proposal will be diluted.

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