Coinciding with World No Tobacco Day, the European Parliament is reviewing the state of play of tobacco addiction in the EU. And it is not looking good, said British MEP Linda McAvan (S&D). In many legislative fields, Europe is at the forefront, she said. But, according to McAvan, this is not the case when it comes to tobacco addiction: other countries, like the US and Canada, have done better than the EU. The EU has to step up its efforts, she insisted, speaking at a conference organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), on 30 May.
Ireland has taken this declaration quite literally and announced, on 28 May, that it intends to introduce standard cigarette packaging on its territory. "It is with great pleasure that I announce that I have received the government's approval to launch the process of introducing standardised packaging/neutral packs for tobacco products in Ireland," said the Irish Minister for Health, James Reilly. He said he knew that many arguments would be used to try to stop this but that he was convinced that such a draft law was justified and would be backed by the fact that it would save lives.
Scotland is also seriously considering taking the same approach, but the UK has just decided not to. In the rest of Europe, the situation is rather fragmented. Currently, all cigarette packs sold in EU must contain health warnings (eg "Smoking kills") but only ten member states (Belgium, Romania, the UK, Lithuania, Malta, France, Spain, Hungary, Denmark and Ireland) have introduced picture-based warnings. Meanwhile, Finland plans to ban tobacco in all areas and all circumstances from 2040.
In this context, the European Commission proposed, in December 2012, to introduce minimum standards in terms of manufacturing, presentation and sale of tobacco and tobacco products. The draft text bans slim and menthol cigarettes and further regulates the appearance of packs by imposing 75% of health warnings on both sides of packs. The aim is to reduce by 2% the number of smokers in the EU over a five-year period and consequently reduce the high costs of tobacco use for health care systems. But the Czech Republic, Poland, Greece, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Portugal are not having any of it. They are backed by Ireland, Lithuania, Finland, France, Slovenia, Finland, the UK and Malta.
In spite of these confrontations, talks at the Council seem to be progressing in a rather positive manner. In fact, the Irish Presidency hopes to be able to reach a...