Tobacco: Brussels unveils new restrictions

19 December 2012 – Presseurop La Libre Belgique, Les Echos, La Stampa

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"Europe goes all out to dissuade smokers," runs a front page headline in Belgian daily La Libre Belgique, anticipating the December 19 unveiling of a European Commission directive on "the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco".

The directive, to which several media outlets had access, will increase the space occupied by health warnings from 40 percent to 75 percent, on both sides of packets of cigarettes and rolling tobacco.

French financial daily Les Echos, however, compares "this barrage of anti-tobacco measures" taken by the Commission to those enacted Down Under on December 1st —

We are not yet Australia, where all the packets are now identical and devoid of logos. But the [EU] directive gives states the possibility to toughen the measure. Four countries, including France, the United Kingdom and Belgium, are said to show interest in the Australian example.

The directive should also ban certain flavours (such as menthol) or so-called "slim" cigarettes thought to encourage consumption. This has raised the ire of the very powerful tobacco industry lobby which sought to make itself heard as the directive was being drafted — a state of affairs that came to public attention in October 2012 when the EU Health Commissioner John Dalli was forced to resign amid allegations of influence peddling.

For Italian daily La Stampa, however, the outraged reaction of big tobacco, tobacco growers and tobacconists is not totally unjustified —

Beyond the objective hazards of the vice, which all recognise, the arguments are not without basis. If the door is closed too much, it fuels smuggling, a phenomenon aggravated by counterfeit goods trafficking, which puts packets full of dangerous rubbish on the market.

The war of the lobbies is "far from over," concludes Les Echos, because —

The directive must now be approved by the European Parliament and by the Member States. Stockholm is expected to fight to save its snus [a type of snuff]. Germany has already made it clear that it is not fully in favour of covering 75 per cent of cigarette packaging with health warnings.

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