Dods Report: Plain packaging to protect our youth, progress made and challenges ahead

Source: The European Respiratory Society and the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention event

Subject: Plain packaging to protect our youth: progress made and challenges ahead 

Date: May 31 2016 


On May 31, the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention (ENSP) organised an event entitled “Plain packaging to protect our youth: progress made and challenges ahead” in the presence of Commissioner Andriukaitis. Please find a summary of the discussion below. 


Professor Jørgen Vestbo, ERS President, Denmark, said that the ERS was happy to mark the World No Tobacco Day with this event before presenting the missions of ERS. He then explained that plain packaging is recommended by the WHO, noting that the conference will outline why standardised packs should be implemented. It is also an opportunity to call for all EU Member States to implement tobacco control measures now that the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) is adopted. This Directive entered into force on May 20 and enables Member States to introduce plain packs, he recalled. So far, three EU Member States have done so: the United Kingdom, Ireland and France and they have to be congratulated, he stressed, before encouraging other countries to follow their lead.


Dr Francisco Lozano, ENSP President, Spain, thanked the participants of the conference for supporting this cause and for their work on the TPD. He explained that TPD is a very effective health measure. He then noted that next week, MEPs will have to vote on the WHO Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products before the Council’s decision. Talking about plain packaging of tobacco products, he said that he is 100% convinced of its effectiveness to reduce the importance of tobacco, especially among the younger generations. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the EU and is a great economic burden to all national health systems. The ENSP wants to improve the health of European citizens and politicians need to join them in this battle.


Gilles Pargneaux (S&D, FR) welcomed all participants and pointed out that it was the World No Tobacco Day. He wanted to insist on the fact that the first bane to fight today is tobacco as it represents 700 000 preventable death per year in the EU. There are solutions to fight against tobacco, he said, noting that determination is needed from a political standpoint. He added that he knows he can count on the Commissioner. Fighting against lobbying from the tobacco industry is important and this is why he is really opposed to the renewal of the agreement with Philipp Morris.


He explained that one of the solutions against smoking is plain packaging but the tobacco industry is opposed to it. He recalled that during the consultation phase on TPD, the tobacco industry lobbied very intensively in the European Parliament. However, despite this lobbying, TPD mentions that the 28 Member States have the possibility of imposing the standardising of packaging.  This Directive, which should have been transposed by May 20, is a big success for the EU despite the intense lobbying by the industry. He then pointed out that there are still a number of countries, a majority, who have not transposed the Directive up to now. The European Commission and the European Parliament must stay vigilant and be proactive to force those Member States to really transpose this Directive and to abide by the rules. Everyone needs to stay in the forefront of the fight to be sure that plain packaging is used and that it becomes a reality.


Tobacco kills 73 000 people per year in France. 36% of men and 25% of women smoke and smoking is hitting a lot of young people. There are 200 000 new young smokers in France every year. To combat this, beyond plain packaging, there are other solutions that need to be contemplated, such as raising the price of cigarettes. He mentioned the United Kingdom which is leading by example. The EU also needs to quickly take decisions so that the fight against illegal tobacco trade continues. It has gained traction in the last few years and this is why cutting the link between this fight and the cooperation with the tobacco industry is important. Member States will need to enable this with a quick ratification of the WHO Convention.


Beyond the Member States of the EU, there needs to be a strong action against the countries that are in duplicity with the tobacco industry, he said, mentioning the examples of Switzerland and Ukraine. Some of these countries are hosting illegal trade. He added that illegal smuggling of tobacco is funding terrorism. The terrorist group who attacked hotels in Bamako and Ouagadougou is funded through illegal tobacco trade. He concluded by saying that there is a need to have fiscal tax equity to eradicate the financing from smuggling to terrorist groups.


Brian Hayes (EPP, IE) said that this meeting was sending a very clear signal to the lobbyists and to Member States who are in denial about the scale of the problem Europe is facing. Across the political divide, there is a growing opinion that the European Parliament to take a very tough stance on this issue and to put pressure on their respective governments. We need to see leadership across the political spectrum, he pointed out. He noted that it is an extraordinary admission that with all the medical knowledge there is about smoking and with the appalling burden it causes on health service that smoking still exist. In Ireland, they have a significant smoking problem. The new government has committed to increasing the cost of cigarette packs by at least 50 cents each year to give a very clear indication about the need from a public health perspective to take a strong stance.


The WHO supports plain packaging and the EU now has the Directive in place, he noted. During the Irish Presidency, in a very short period of time, the TPD managed to be pushed through. However, now the question is about implementation. He said that it is crucial to use this event as an opportunity to highlight the necessity of transposition and to learn from each other about plain packaging to help other Member States implement it. What we have achieved is amazing, he noted, but the tobacco industry is a well-resourced and a well-engrained enemy who will do anything possible to keep its market share. Plain packaging could be implemented in all the Member States and this should be an objective.


Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said that it was a great pleasure to celebrate No Tobacco Day. This year, everyone have a particular cause for celebration with the coming into force of TPD. The Directive announces a new era for the fight against risk factors and strong tobacco control in Europe. All new tobacco products must now have large photo warnings, flavoured cigarettes must disappear and there is new legislation on electronic cigarettes. He noted that several implementing acts will enforce the Directive. It is a significant achievement of which the EU should be proud. He noted that they worked very hard during the Irish and Lithuanian Presidencies.


He then mentioned the industry’s attack on TPD in Court, saying that the European Court of Justice sent a clear message: TPD is a solid piece of legislation.  It is also a strong and clear message that public health is more important than profit and especially when this profit comes from tobacco which is a product that kills but is disguised by all sorts of marketing gimmicks.


His aim is to discourage over 2 million people from smoking and for this to happen Member States must enforce the Directive. Europe has an impressive track record on tobacco control, he said, explain that several Member States introduced a ban on smoking in close public places, some banned smoking in cars with children. This can inspire other countries. Some countries are still struggling with enforcing a no-smoking policy in restaurants. The EU has to use all available instruments. Children should be able to grow up without being targeted by the tobacco industry.


The adoption of TPD is an opportunity for Member States to go beyond the Directive. Ireland, France and the United Kingdom are EU pioneers but Hungary, Slovenia and Norway are working on plain packaging as well. Such ambitious steps are changing the nature of the game on tobacco control. Plain packaging is one of the most powerful tools to fight the attraction of smoking for young people. Every measure counts to encourage people to reduce smoking and the harm it causes. There is still a lot of work to do, he noted, underlining that the WHO Protocol must be ratified. The heads of states and governments cannot be blind to cancer, he said. Electronic cigarettes must be closely monitored as well, he added.


He concluded by saying that it was No Tobacco Day and he hopes that in the near future such day will not be needed because every day will be tobacco free.


The Commissioner’s full speech is available here .

All presentation slides are available here.

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