The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 33

Complimentary with The Nation Sunday, October 20, 2013
8 pages
Chamara Sumanapala and
Manushi Silva
T
he European Union Parliament
voted to tighten tobacco regulations
aimed at putting young people off
smoking. However, some measures did not
go as far as originally planned.
In early July, the European Parliament
Public Health Committee (EPPHC) passed
the draft legislation. This attracted large
scale lobbying by tobacco companies.
The European Parliament took debate
the draft legislation for hours on October
8 and passed a somewhat less powerful
legislation. This will become law by next
year and in two years will become law
within the 28 countries in the European
Union (EU).
Carl Schlyter MEP, health spokesman
for the Greens, told the BBC that it
was “a shameful day for the European
Parliament, as a centre-right majority,
led by the European People’s Party
(EPP) group, has done the bidding of the
tobacco industry and voted for weaker
rules”. The EPP holds 274 out of 786 seats
in the European Parliament and holds a
majority with the Progressive Alliance of
the Liberals and Democrats for Europe
and other centre right groups.
E-cigarettes
The Members of European Parliament
(MEPs) rejected a European Commission
proposal to treat electronic cigarettes as
medicinal products. However, legislators
voted for new limits on advertising
for electronic cigarettes. The battery-
operated products, which are enjoying
a boom in the United States and many
European countries, turn nicotine into a
vapor inhaled by the user and are often
marketed as a less harmful alternative to
tobacco.
But campaigners say their growing
popularity is dangerous. They argue that
e-cigarettes undermine years of anti-
smoking efforts and could be especially
damaging to children and non-smokers.
Manufacturers of e-cigarettes say the
products have the potential to save
millions of lives while anti-smoking
campaigners say young people especially
are being tricked into taking up smoking.
In August, French organization ‘60
Million Consumers’ caused a stir with
a report which claimed that e-cigarettes
were “potentially carcinogenic” and
not as safe as their manufacturers had
made them out to be. The report said that
“in three cases out of ten, for products
with or without nicotine, the content of
formaldehyde was as much as the levels
found in some conventional cigarettes,”
Scientists reportedly found traces of
acrolein, a toxic molecule emmited in
quantities “that exceeded the amount
found in the smoke of some cigarettes” as
well as traces of Acetaldehyde, another
potentially toxic chemical. However, the
report was criticized by other experts.
Many health experts say e-cigarettes are
useful for people trying to quit or cut
down on nicotine.
Flavors
The European Parliament also passed
laws prohibiting the additives and
flavorings such as vanilla or chocolate
on cigarettes. They will be banned three
years after the legislation finally comes
to force. However, in the case of menthol,
the period is five years. Opponents of
such additives and flavors argue that they
entice young people to smoke. British
Labor MEP Linda McAvan who steered
the legislation on tobacco regulation
stated that the legislation was not aimed
to tell the Europeans what to do. It is
intended to prevent the tobacco industry
from misleading the young. Furthermore,
she stressed that tobacco products should
look and taste like tobacco. There won’t
be any more lipstick or perfume style
cigarettes packets that are used to attract
female users, especially among the youth.
Pictorial warnings
The European lawmakers voted to
impose pictorial warnings covering 65
percent of cigarette packs and to be shown
above the brand logo. Current warning
labels cover only 30 percent on one side
and 40 percent of the other in cigarette
packs in Europe. However, the EPPHC had
pushed for pictorial warnings covering
75 percent of the surface area of the
cigarette packets.
The 75 percent pictorial and text
combined warnings on cigarette packets
have been made mandatory in several
countries including Australia and
Canada. It has been found that such
warnings are much more effective in
discouraging potential smokers. They
have also encouraged increasing number
of smokers to quit.
Pictorial warnings are important for
health education and creating awareness.
A major advantage is that it can cut
across demographic boundaries and
literacy issues effectively. Countries in the
world are increasingly moving towards
implementing stronger warning messages
on cigarette packets.
Australia is a perfect example for the
effectiveness of the combined warnings
(picture and text). They have been found
to be much more effective than text only
warnings which were used earlier. The
sizes and the placement of the pictorial
warnings were also found to be important
factors.
Meanwhile, the new legislation will ban
packs of 10 cigarettes, considered popular
among younger smokers. Currently, 14 EU
states have 20 as the minimum number
of cigarettes in one packet. Four nations
stipulate a minimum of 19 and in the UK
and Italy the minimum is 10. However,
smaller than normal packs of roll-your-
own tobacco will not be affected under the
new rules.
Lobby
The lobbying by tobacco companies was
very strong in Europe during the build
up towards the European Parliamentary
debate. For example, it was reported that
British American Tobacco has seven
full-time lobbyists in Brussels in July.
The tobacco industry reportedly employs
around 100 lobbyists in Brussels,
spending more than five million Euros
(US $6.6 million) a year. Those numbers
have grown as the industry fought the
proposed new regulation.
These lobbyists have been successful
in getting legislations watered down.
There were reportedly more than 1000
suggestions for amendments of the
proposed legislation.
Tobacco companies argue that they
have as much right to meet MEPs as any
other business and say that the scale of
the tobacco lobby is often exaggerated.
They claim that they are always open
and honest. The companies are selling
legal products and therefore have a role
to play in communicating their point of
view to people who make decisions that
impact them.
Future of the
legislation
The new rules were viewed by the
World Health Organization and EU health
officials as an important milestone.
However, this is clearly not the end of
their quest to stop people from smoking
and keep teens from ever picking up a
cigarette.
The legislature still must reach a
compromise with the 28 European Union
governments on certain points before the
rules can enter into force. Diplomats say a
deal could be struck by the end of the year.
Those who support the legislation want
it to pass this stage before the electios for
the European Parliament scheduled for
next year.
Campaigners say their growing popularity
of e-cigarettes is dangerous. They argue
that e-cigarettes undermine years of anti-
smoking efforts and could be especially
damaging to children and non-smokers.
Manufacturers of e-cigarettes say the
products have the potential to save millions
of lives while anti-smoking campaigners say
young people especially are being tricked
into taking up smoking.
EU tough on tobacco
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