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No good news on packaging regs

The European Court of Justice has backed the EU Tobacco Directive and told producers of packaging for tobacco products that they cannot use fancy substrates, designs or techniques to differentiate brands following the plain packaging requirement that comes into force on 20 May.

One such firm is Amcor, whose designs include the ‘scissor’ pack, which opens sideways to reveal hidden branding.

The directive will also ban packs of 10 cigarettes, rolling tobacco in packs under 30g and all menthol cigarettes, from 20 May 2020. Packs across the EU are required to have health warnings across 65% of their surface.

Meanwhile, the sector is on tenterhooks awaiting the decision of the UK High Court in an intellectual property case brought by Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International.

Many businesses due to be affected by the legislation are reserving comment until the decision comes through but the mood is not good. In Australia, which introduced plain packaging in December 2012, a similar high-profile and very expensive legal battle between the Australian government and tobacco titans did not go the tobacco lobby’s way.

Mike Ridgway of the Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance says: “A lot of printing will be badly affected by the implementation of plain packaging. Plain packaging means standardised packaging doing away with branding and ID, having health warnings and an olive green background with a small font.

“It’s not just graphics, it’s the construction and the substrates. There’s no hot-foil stamping, no embossing, graining or anything that gives the pack any sort of particular graphical marketing characteristics.”

While the plain packaging law, barring a last-minute reprieve by the court, will be introduced in the UK, Ireland and France, the EU directive affects all EU states. Any converter who has decided to make up for lost printing income through focusing on packaging shape, will find itself at the mercy of a double whammy.

Ridgway, a former Chesapeake Branded Packaging executive, adds: “I’m a non smoker; I just think it’s excessive regulation and there’s no proof it works, from a packaging and printing point of view it’s affecting tins, pouches, the whole packaging industry. They have really got issues.”

The pro-plain packaging lobby, however, claims Australian cigarette packs which feature large, gory photographs, do work.

Research by the Cancer Council, published in the medical journal Tobacco Control last year, found 20% of smokers were trying to quit the month before the ban and 27% the month after.

UK substrate manufacturer API is one company that was actively targeting tobacco packaging and at Packaging Innovations at London’s Olympia in September last year, cigarette packets featuring its signature Fresnel Lens PET laminate took pride of place on its stand. API also produces foils used on the front of cigarette packs and the plain packaging legislation has “badly knocked” its business, according to Ridgway.

Printed tobacco packets will not suddenly disappear from shelves. Retailers have a year for ‘sell-through’ and the introduction of standardised packaging could also produce opportunities for creative businesses.

When the Australian ban was introduced in December 2012, enterprising label printers, including Box Wrap and Stickerette, decided to print sticker covers for cigarette boxes.

Stickerette has patented its whole pack wraps and now calls itself a global brand which aims to increase sales in the UK and the US under its ‘Your Pack – You Decide’ slogan.

The standardised plain pack design can be produced litho or even digitally, according to Ridgway.

Parkside, Amcor and Multi Packaging Solutions are among the packaging firms likely to be hit. The latter prints cigarette packets on gravure. Amcor Tobacco Packaging president Jerzy Czubak said the legislation posed “a real risk” to consumers.

“Standardised packaging lowers barriers of entry into the tobacco market, leading to de facto creation of scale benefits for criminal organisations trading in counterfeit tobacco. Consumers are exposed to hazardous contents in illicit tobacco products and there will be a limited capacity to authenticate and differentiate between products.

“Amcor Tobacco Packaging believes that standardised packaging represents an unnecessary intervention into not only tobacco, but also packaging in general – a legitimate and essential industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.”

Another gravure printer which is likely to be affected by the rules is Benkert. Its Alva, Clackmannanshire plant prints the paper which goes around cigarettes.

“Our argument has always been that if you take complexity out of the packs you’re opening the market up to illicit trade,” Ridgway says. “Over £2bn is lost through tax revenue losses per year through counterfeiting. That’s £8m a day. This business about increasing price is just not going to help. The projection is that by 2020 a packet of  cigarettes will be £20 and 14% of trade will be illicit.”

Countefeiting also concerns the BPIF. General manager at BPIF Cartons Neal Whipp, says: “BPIF Cartons supports any packaging initiative that has been proven to improve public health by reducing smoking. However thus far we have not seen sufficient evidence to this effect and so there is a risk that plain packaging may make matters worse by facilitating more counterfeit products at lower prices.”

Another fear is that the incoming rules will have a knock-on effect, in other countries and in terms of other sectors coming under the plain packaging microscope.

Alcohol is the obvious contender but concerns, espoused by the anti plain-packaging fraternity at least, is that fatty and sugary foods could also be in the firing line, as a way to be seen to be doing something to appease the health lobby.

The government claimed sound reasons for pressing ahead with plain packaging. In 2012-13 it spent £87.7m on services to help people stop smoking. It says the new packs will save lives and, in addition, money. Public Health England estimates a £500m healthcare saving if the fall in smoking seen in Australia is mirrored here.

So why not ban them completely? In 2014-15 the government received £9.5bn in revenue from tobacco tax and that excludes VAT. So we have a compromise which benefits some, but packaging printers and converters least of all.

UK’s policy on standardised tobacco packaging given EU backing

Plans to introduce plain, standardised packaging for cigarettes in the UK have been given European backing.

The European Court of Justice ruled (link is external) that the EU Tobacco Products Directive is lawful and has overturned the tobacco industry’s challenge to it.

The court also confirmed that EU Member States can go further than the requirements set out in the Directive with regard to packaging.

This, essentially, allows countries to bring in standardised packaging. The directive, along with standardised packaging, will now enter into force on May 20.

George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy manager, said: “This court decision tells us what we knew all along – that the Tobacco Products Directive is an effective and proportional set of measures to stop children taking up smoking.

“This will help to lower smoking rates in the UK and protect more people from developing cancer.

“It’s truly shameful that the tobacco industry has poured so much time, effort and money trying to undermine it. UK laws can now continue as planned and from May 20 the rollout of plain, standardised packaging begins.”

The UK, France and Ireland have already passed legislation on standardised packaging.

This new ruling will give support to other member states who also wish to proceed with the measure.

The Court also dismissed other legal challenges claiming regulations on e-cigarettes were disproportionate and the ban on menthol flavouring was unjustified.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH said the Court’s decision was “welcome”.

“The Directive is lawful and the UK is allowed to go further than the Directive in standardising tobacco packs with respect to matters not harmonised by the Directive,” she added.

“We await the UK court judgement, which is expected shortly, but we expect that the court will also confirm that the introduction of standardised packaging in the UK is lawful.

“From May 20, all packs manufactured for sale in the UK will have to be plain, standardised in the same drab green colour with the product name on the pack in a standard font.”

What the EU has done to take on Big Tobacco

Three landmark cases in the EU Court of Justice have dealt an important blow in the long-running campaign by Big Tobacco to use legal challenges to avoid regulation. The big question at stake is about how effective is the EU at taking on the might of the multinationals – the huge and well-funded companies in the tobacco industry – in the name of health protection.

The decisions, which unequivocally support the EU’s latest package of tobacco regulation, will be warmly greeted by pro-Europe campaigners in the UK’s referendum – such as Scientists for EU – who argue that on balance, staying in the EU is better for health.

One case was brought by the Polish government and the others were referred by the English High Court, which asked the EU court to interpret EU law. Based on this judgment, the English court will now decide claims brought by tobacco companies, or suppliers to the industry and a retailer of e-cigarettes.

The EU began to regulate tobacco in the late 1980s, as information about the dangers of tobacco came to greater public awareness and the EU’s competence to regulate in its market expanded. Of course, the world knew about the dangers of tobacco well before that – see, for instance, the US Surgeon General’s Report of 1964 and earlier research such as the work of Doll and Hill in Oxford in the 1950s.

But it is notoriously difficult for governments or international organisations to control the tobacco industry. Tactics include undermining anti-tobacco cancer research, relying on ideas such as freedom or human rights, appealing to social norms or drawing shocking historical parallels – which have included calling anti-smoking campaigners “Nicotine Nazis”.

Then factor in the level of lobbying and persuasion of law and policy-makers, which is considerable. And the power of these companies to engage in expensive litigation tactics, which – in the case of tobacco – include repeatedly making the legal argument that the EU has exceeded its powers.

Setting the rules

The question in these recent cases was whether the EU is competent to adopt the latest Tobacco Products Directive of 2014, which must be implemented in national law by May 20 2016. That directive revises and tightens up existing EU rules about cigarette packaging, prohibits vouchers and discounts, and strengthens health warnings.

The directive also prevents misleading words on cigarette packaging (such as “natural”, “slim” or “light”) and regulates the size of packages, banning what have been called “lipstick-style” packs of fewer than 20 cigarettes which are targeted at women and young people. It also sets rules about flavourings and additives such as menthol or cinnamon, which are used to make cigarettes more palatable – especially for young people when they first try them – and regulates e-cigarettes and other novel tobacco products.

The EU’s court has ruled that the EU’s powers allow it to adopt the directive. The judgment stressed that the EU must secure high levels of health protection in all its policies, including its trade law. It rejected arguments that relevant EU laws are a disproportionate paternalistic incursion on autonomy, by emphasising that the rules seek especially to protect young people.

The court confirmed that EU law may adopt a precautionary approach when the dangers associated with new products, such as e-cigarettes, are still being explored. It also rejected arguments based on freedom of expression, including the freedom of companies to advertise, saying that these entitlements are outweighed by the “proven harmfulness of tobacco consumption”.

The EU court confirms that the directive does leave discretion to member states. In the UK there has been discussion about whether this includes power to adopt plain packaging (as in Australia), or standardised packaging – which was called for in the independent report by Sir Cyril Chantler, and adopted by the Children and Families Act 2014.

Note that the current UK government does not intend to adopt plain packaging, and the question of whether it could lawfully do so was debated only as a theoretical or hypothetical one in the legal hearing.

Taking on the smoking guns

The EU’s track record on tobacco regulation is far from perfect from a health point of view. The imbalances of lobbying power are legendary: the WHO noted that some 20 people advocated the health policy aspects of this directive, whereas more than 160 lobbyists represented the industry.

In October 2012, the EU health commissioner John Dalli resigned amid allegations uncovered by the European Anti-Fraud Office regarding links between Dalli and the tobacco industry. Dalli was unsuccessful in subsequent legal claims about the nature of the resignation process and the European Union’s ombudsman has recommended release of all pertinent documents after the conclusion of those proceedings.

The EU’s tobacco law has been hailed as a public health success story – and perhaps with some justification. From a position in which several EU countries had no effective tobacco regulation at all, by the early 1990s the EU had adopted a suite of laws on tobacco product regulation, labelling and packaging, and taxation.

From the 1990s onwards, EU anti-tobacco law has proceeded at a slower pace, involving a “nudging” approach focused mainly on young people. There is undoubtedly more that the EU could do to stop Big Tobacco, especially as it develops new products. But the EU has been more effective than its member states acting alone. And its transparency rules mean citizens have greater abilities to track industry influence on policy than in many of its member states.

The example of EU tobacco regulation is important for the UK referendum. There are understandable concerns about the impacts of EU membership on health issues. But let’s look beyond the discussions of the NHS and TTIP – important as they are. If there is political will to go further in regulating tobacco than EU law requires, our government has the discretion to do so. But EU laws provide a public health baseline, which even the tobacco industry cannot easily undermine.

Tougher Rules On Electronic Cigarettes: European Court

Brussels: The European Union’s top court has approved new rules requiring plain cigarette packs, banning menthol cigarettes and regulating the growing electronic cigarette market.

Tobacco companies had protested a 2014 EU tobacco directive, calling it disproportionate. But the European Court of Justice today ruled the directive is in line with efforts to protect public health.

The court upheld a ban on menthol and other flavorings that make tobacco more appealing. The directive also requires standardized, plain labels that cover cigarette packs at least 65 percent with health warnings.

The rules will require warnings for e-cigarettes, limit their nicotine levels to 20 grams and restrict advertising and sponsorship by their makers.

The Independent British Vape Trade Association argued the ruling could push some e-cigarette smokers back to tobacco.

EU dismisses Big Tobacco challenge, paving way for standardised cigarette packaging in the UK

A claim made by big tobacco companies against plans to standardise tobacco packaging in the UK has been dismissed by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Wednesday (4 May). The ECJ clarified that EU member states can introduce further requirements on the packaging of tobacco products.

A prohibition of “any element or feature that is such as to promote a tobacco product or encourage its consumption” on tobacco packaging is considered protecting consumers from the risks of tobacco consumption “even if these are factually accurate”, said the court’s ruling.

The ruling means that standardised packaging for cigarettes should come in from 20 May, though another challenge in the High Court, due to be ruled on on 18 May, may halt the plans or lead to further delay if there is an appeal from the tobacco industry.

In 2015 parliament passed laws on standardised tobacco packaging in the UK − originally slated for 20 May. However, with or without legal delays, the new packaging may not be seen until old stocks are sold out. The packaging will likely simply show the brand name and product variant.

The ECJ ruling also upheld rules banning advertising by e-cigarette companies. The Independent British Vape Trade Association struck out immediately, claiming that the regulations could force e-cigarette users back to smoking regular tobacco products:

“The Tobacco Products Directive will have a significant impact on our sector as higher strength e-liquids and larger tanks are removed from the market, almost all advertising is banned, manufacturers and importers have to comply with a costly and bureaucratic notification process, and free trade across the EU is hampered. At the very least, this will force some vapers back to smoking and cause a number of smaller businesses to close.”

Can e-cigarette makers stub out addiction concerns?

As vaping culture grows and big tobacco piles in with huge ad budgets, worry over nicotine use lingers

The medical report published this week which finds that vaping could save millions of lives and should be encouraged could be read as a victory for the Marlboro Man of our times, who has swapped his horse for a helicopter and become a woman.

Perhaps you’ve seen the glossy new TV ad, below, and its evocation of an age when cowboys sold a deadly lifestyle. In summary: helicopter corrals cows under big skies, lands next to massive rock; pilot wearing stetson gets out, pulls down bandana and puts an electronic cigarette in her mouth. Its tip glows blue before the setting sun catches the vapour cloud as she exhales.

It’s big-budget and kind of beautiful. But the ad, for Blu eCigs, part of Imperial Tobacco, comes at a tricky time in the rise of an awkward object. Conceived as a nicotine vehicle to deliver the physical, social and chemical appeal of smoking without the aftertaste of death, the electronic cigarette, used by an estimated 2.6 million people in Britain, has rapidly spawned a sub-industry and vaping culture.

But like a curious teenager clutching an Embassy behind a bike shed, we don’t quite seem to know what to do with these new sticks, or what the risks might be. Just as the the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) called on Thursday for the promotion of vaping in the biggest report of its kind, new rules are about to make e-cigarettes harder to buy – and kill off the Blu Woman before she’s even got going.

The EU Tobacco Products Directive, which comes into force on 20 May, will, among other things, outlaw the advertising of electronic cigarettes on TV, radio and in newspapers. It will also set a limit on the nicotine content of the liquid used in the devices, which use a small, battery powered heating element to create the inhalable vapour (the “e-liquid” or “juice” is a blend of organic compounds, natural or synthetic flavourings and nicotine).

The directive follows years of conflicting advice and regulation. There is no public ban on e-cigarettes but local policy varies. You can vape to your lungs’ content inside a Westfield shopping centre, but stray over the carpet into a Starbucks and you’re banned. Doctors haven’t been able to agree either. In 2014, the World Health Organisation said vaping could be dangerous. A year later, Public Health England said it was 95% less harmful than smoking, but its evidence was subsequently doubted in the Lancet.

Perhaps Prof John Britton, chair of the RCP’s tobacco advisory group, which produced the new report, can help navigate this fug of confusion. “A lot of it is psychological,” he says. “There are people who feel sustaining nicotine addiction is wrong. I’ve had those conversations at conferences over coffee, and nobody has seen the irony in it.”

Nicotine isn’t something to seek out but “like caffeine, if it is used in the doses in which smokers use it, it is not significantly hazardous,” Britton adds. “The important thing is to separate it from the smoke, which is what electronic cigarettes do.”

The RCP report “lays to rest almost all of the concerns over these products”, including any suggestion that secondhand vapour can be harmful. But it will be harder to stub out the connotations of smoking. Almost 10 years after the public smoking ban, and more than half a century after the RCP’s pivotal 1962 report, Smoking and Health, which changed our relationship with cigarettes for ever, we are bound to doubt a solution that looks like the problem. Moreover, as the tobacco multinationals catch up with a runaway trend, and sell that solution as a lifestyle, we are understandably wary of the motivations of an industry which has not always welcomed the advice of doctors.

“There’s a suspicion of a commercial, consumer-led rather than medical response,” Britton accepts. “And there are arguments that these products are being used to promote smoking subconsciously … and that the tobacco industry will exploit them to sell more tobacco, particularly in countries with poorer governance.” The professor of epidemiology welcomes proportionate regulation, including the ad ban, as well as theforthcoming move to allow doctors to prescribe licensed vape kits. But while 200,000 children still take up smoking every year in Britain, he believes the participation even of public health villains is a price worth paying if it reduces illness and about 100,000 deaths a year (that’s about one every five minutes).

“We still have nearly 9 million people smoking tobacco every day when we’ve known what to do about it pretty much since 1962,” Britton says. “That’s a reflection of an abject failure of health policy. We’re reducing the number of young people taking up smoking, but we’re not that much better at helping them quit. That’s why the e-cigarette is such a powerful new tool.”

Marc Michelsen is, unsurprisingly, inclined to agree. “We have had an issue with public trust,” admits the public affairs executive at Fontem Ventures, the Dutch firm which owns Blu, and is an “arms-length subsidiary” of Imperial, the British tobacco company. “But a lot of that comes from a lack of scientific understanding.” Blu is delighted with the RCP report, but less keen on the advertising ban. “If you inhibit advertising, fewer people will buy the product and that can’t be good,” adds Michelsen, who denies that Blu’s commerical is a barely veiled Marlboro reboot. “I think it’s pure Mad Max,” he suggests (I must have missed the pastoral scenes in Fury Road). “This campaign is not about the past, we’re looking forward.”

What do vapers think, and who are they anyway? The majority of electronic smokers buy mass-produced products in supermarkets or online, and don’t think a great deal about them beyond their health and financial savings (£200 a month for a 20-a-day smoker, according to vape sites). But a vaping scene has unexpectedly mushroomed to the extent that, for many vapers, nicotine has become a secondary interest.

At the Vape Emporium, a London-based online store with boutiques at Hampstead and Richmond, a vape consultant will talk you through a menu of handcrafted e-pipes and more than 200 flavoured e-liquids. Perhaps you’d like to try the VG by Simple Chocolaccino, which “blends caramel, chocolate, coffee and biscuit for a divine morning vape”. “We now have juices that only contain 1.5mg of nicotine, which is tiny,” says Andy Logan, the emporium’s co-founder. A 24mg/ml mix compares to a strong cigarette, he explains (the new rules will set the maximum at 20mg). “And some people are taking zero nicotine now because they just don’t need it but still enjoy vaping.”

Logan, who set up as an online store in 2013 and is looking for new shopfronts, says vapers follow a familiar path. “At the start they’re adamant they don’t want any funny flavoured rubbish and go for a strong, tobacco-style vape. But after a few weeks they’re trying some crazy flavours and dropping the nicotine because they’ve got their tastebuds back.” Flavour seekers tend to favour fruit, pudding (doughnuts and cakes are popular) or mint and vanilla perfumes, he adds. Some go further, vaping socially in cafes and clubs and discussing equipment and blends. Logan has just exhibited at the second Vape Jam UK, a three-day expo at London’s ExCel centre attended by 300 companies and clubs. “I took my fiancee on the Sunday,” he says. “She had no idea this subculture exists. It’s quite amazing.”

Logan says his customers range from an insanely knowledgable 94-year-old woman to a businessman who comes in for a puff while his driver idles outside in a Bentley.

Vaping is increasingly popular among young people (it is illegal to sell to under-18s), he adds. Meanwhile, the public response to vaping – while still generally somewhere between curious and hostile – is catching up with its rise in popularity. “I still can’t go to a party without facing a barrage of questions, but it is changing,” Logan says.

As a culture emerges and big tobacco piles in with huge advertising budgets, do we risk discouraging nicotine quitting, or even drawing non-smokers into addiction? “Our annual survey of 12,000 adults suggests the level of vaping among non-smokers is steady at about 0.2%, says Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy at Ash, the smoking health charity.

“It’s extremely rare and I don’t think that will ever change,” Logan adds, rejecting the gateway hypothesis. And he doesn’t need it to. “If there are nearly 10 million smokers and only 2 million vapers, we’ve still got a massive, long journey to convert the rest,” he says.

The Pleasure Principle

Sarah Jakes, a Trustee at the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA), proposes vaping as a recreational alternative to smoking – an holistic approach to tobacco harm reduction and smoking cessation (and pleasure).

The UK is now a world leader in recognising the health benefits for smokers of switching to vaping on both an individual and population level. As a result, the UK  Government is taking a relatively liberal approach to implementation of the EU Tobacco Products Directive (the ‘TPD’) and seeks to impose only the bare minimum requirements therein. Despite this the new regulations will still be extremely damaging to public health, but the situation is better than it might have been. The achievements in the UK, such that they are, are largely down to a huge effort by vapers to educate politicians, regulators and those who influence them about the ways in  which vaping has improved their health, lives and outlook.

This might not have been possible were it not for the fact that among the public health community in the UK there are a number of individuals and key influencers who listened to consumers and were brave enough to step outside of the tobacco control party line and take a pragmatic view of tobacco harm reduction in order to achieve the potentially massive public health gains on offer via vaping. However, as time has gone by the discussions have been dominated by arguments over often misleading reports of trivial potential harms and the efficacy of vaping products for cessation. We stand a good chance of losing sight of the very essence of why vaping works as a way of reducing smoking. This would be a shameful waste of a great opportunity.

Vaping is a consumer driven free market solution to the problems inherent in smoking tobacco. Naturally the public health community, including many of those who are provaping, seize upon harm to health being the problem to be solved and a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that is the only issue. This leads to a disproportionate amount of time and resources being expended on arguing the toss over whether vapour devices are efficacious as smoking cessation tools (millions of vapers worldwide are proof that they are) or whether they will annihilate generations to come through nicotine addiction and the so far mythical gateway effects. Of course health is the most important consideration for those who come from a medical or health background, and indeed for many smokers, but it is not the only consideration for the ordinary smoker on the street.

Tobacco taxes have made smoking extraordinarily expensive. Smokefree laws have made it inconvenient. Those policies, together with messaging around denormalisation, have led to the stigmatisation of not only smoking, but also of smokers such that there are now those within otherwise polite society who think nothing of abusing smokers and painting them as selfish, stupid, stinking child / cat killers. The ‘untermensch’ to be despised, the lepers without bells.

A rethink is required. Smokers are fellow human beings who make choices in life based on risks and benefits just as everyone else does, albeit free choice is made more difficult in the context of tobacco dependence. Like it or not, for many people smoking has value which outweighs the risks and that value cannot be replaced by bland medicinalised products. Concentrating on health benefits and promoting vapour devices purely as tools of smoking cessation whilst simultaneously brow beating smokers into submission fails to capitalise on many of the reasons smokers may have to switch to the safer alternative and may be off putting for those who do not see smoking as a medical problem, or themselves as patients.

An holistic approach to vaping would recognise that its success as a popular alternative to smoking is not simply down to whether particular devices deliver sufficient nicotine to relieve cravings (although that is an important factor). To pretend otherwise is a mistake. Vaping is a thing of many parts, and the neglect of any one of them is to the detriment of the whole. It is a recreational activity in its own right and brings pleasures of its own. It is also both a movement and a community with its own peer to peer support mechanisms. It is a hobby, an opportunity for socialising and a way to relax. Switching to vaping is empowering for many smokers, who often feel alienated by the constant nagging from the medical community, and would prefer to find their own solution with the help of those who have trodden the same path.

At a recent meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on E-cigarettes Professor Gerry Stimson asserted that vapour product manufacturers, vendors and vapers themselves are the new frontline in smoking cessation. I’m sure that statement rings alarm bells in certain public health circles. Decades of tax, prohibition and denormalisation have had an effect on smoking prevalence but at great cost – both financial and social – which smokers bear more than anyone. And yet nearly one in five people in the UK still smoke.

Gerry is of course absolutely right in his assertion above, but this was never the main intention of vapers or the vapour industry. They have filled a gap left by the failure of public health to deliver a solution. Why are they succeeding where others have failed, and without the need for stigma or cost to the public purse? Because of their holistic approach. Because they recognise the benefit of offering an attractive alternative instead of coercion. Because they were smokers themselves.

If public health wants to capitalise on the health benefits of smokers switching to vaping it must accept all that it entails and not just the parts that suit its own agenda. It must accept vaping for what it is and not what it would wish it to be, and stand alongside vapers in the fight against those who would deny them the choices they’ve made.

It must listen to vapers when they describe the damage the TPD will do, they have first-hand knowledge of the issues and no vested interest other than their own wellbeing.

Vaping is the sum of its parts and any attempt to separate those parts will end in public health failure.

Pressure grows for Commission President Juncker to end tobacco lobbying secrecy

Splits occur within European Commission, as European Parliament, Ombudsman and NGOs increase the pressure for implementing UN rules for contacts with tobacco industry lobbyists.

In February, European Commission President Juncker took many by surprise by flatly rejecting a European Ombudsman’s ruling recommending full transparency around tobacco industry lobbying. The previous autumn (after an investigation sparked by a complaint by Corporate Europe Observatory), Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly had slammed the Commission’s failure to comply with the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as ‘maladministration’. The ruling urged the Commission to publish details of all meetings with tobacco lobbyists online. Four months later Juncker responded by claiming that the Commission “complies in full” with the UN rules, repeating the unconvincing argument that its general rules in the field of transparency and ethics are sufficient.

In her speech “Combating tobacco industry tactics: State of play and a way forward” in the European Parliament a few weeks later, O’Reilly expressed strong regret “that the Commission declined to accept my recommendation to extend proactive tobacco lobbying transparency across all DGs and across all levels of the service.” “And, given the stated commitment of the EU to the Convention”, the Ombudsman added, “I confess to being puzzled as to why that is.” In the conclusions of her speech, O’Reilly offered at least a partial explanation, stating that “the sophistication of the tobacco industry’s global lobbying efforts is still seriously underestimated”.

The Ombudsman, fortunately, has far from given up. Within a few weeks, she will publish a final ruling on the case. O’Reilly is also organising an official hearing in the European Parliament on “Improving transparency in tobacco lobbying”. Among the speakers will be Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health. Andriukaitis has recently voiced strong disagreement with Juncker’s rejection of the Ombudsman’s recommendations. Last month, Andriukaitis revealed at a conference in the European Parliament that Juncker’s response to the Ombudsman had not been discussed in the College for Commissioners. He reported that it was drafted by the Commission’s Legal Services, signed by Juncker and sent to the Ombudsman without consulting other commissioners.

In a resolution approved in a plenary vote last month, the European Parliament added to the pressure on the Commission, stating its concerns about the Ombudsman’s finding that the Commission was “not fully implementing UN WHO rules and guidelines governing transparency and tobacco lobbying”, adding that the Parliament “is of the opinion […] that the Commission’s credibility and seriousness have been endangered”. The Parliament’s resolution “urges all the relevant EU institutions to implement Article 5(3) of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in accordance with the recommendations contained in the guidelines thereto”.

In his response to the Ombudsman, Juncker argued that tobacco lobbying transparency is not needed because the number of meetings between top officials and tobacco lobbyists has decreased since decision-making on the Tobacco Products Directive came to an end in 2014. This is a clear example of the European Commission seriously underestimating the lobbying efforts of the tobacco industry. Tobacco lobbyists are now targeting other issues, such as EU trade policy (TTIP and other trade negotiations), the renewal of the controversial agreements with four tobacco giants on combating illicit trade in tobacco, and the battle around the choice of technology for high-tech digital watermarks in tobacco packaging to prevent counterfeiting. New documents uncovered by CEO – see box below – show the tobacco industry is also making full use of the Commission’s flagship “Better Regulation” initiative in attempts to weaken tobacco control measures such as health warnings on cigarette packs. This has included attempts to bypass the health commissioner by lobbying the cabinet of Commission Vice-President Timmermans, who is responsible for ’Better Regulation’.

The European Parliament, the health commissioner and public health NGOs are calling on the Commission to accept the Ombudsman’s recommendations. So what is Juncker waiting for?

Tobacco industry lobbyists using the Commission’s “Better Regulation” agenda

After attending a BusinessEurope meeting with the Commission on the Commission’s “Better Regulation” package, Japan International Tobacco (JTI) requested a meeting with the cabinet of Commission Vice-President Timmermans to “discuss a number of specific areas”. When the meeting happened (November 25 2015), the JTI lobbyists only raised “a very specific issue” concerning “the placing of health warning on cigarette packs with bevelled sides”. JTI attempted to use the “Better Regulation” agenda in its lobbying on this issue and went to Timmermans’ cabinet to bypass the Commission’s health department. The cabinet member promised to contact the cabinet of the health commissioner “to hear their side of the story”, but the notes of the meeting also stress that “no further commitments were undertaken”. This meeting was disclosed because it involved a top Commission official, but how many more meetings like this are happening at lower levels?

Nerudia and Broughton unveil TPD partnership

Nerudia, which develops nicotine products, and Broughton Laboratories announced a strategic partnership to help e-cigarette companies comply with European regulation of their previously unregulated market.

Vaping products will be regulated in the EU from 20 May, when requirements of the revised Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) take effect. “The analytical capabilities and expertise of Broughton Laboratories are a perfect fit with Nerudia’s regulatory knowledge and our own services,” said Peter Beckett, compliance officer at Nerudia.

Adviser to top EU court says EU cigarette law is valid

An adviser to Europe’s highest court in Luxembourg on Wednesday said an EU law on cigarettes was valid, rebuffing a challenge from Philip Morris International, although the court still has to deliver a final ruling. The opinion, if adopted by the court, would be a blow to Big Tobacco, which had lobbied vigorously against what was seen as some of the world’s strictest anti-tobacco legislation.

In a majority of cases, opinions of the court advisers are reflected in the final ruling, which should follow in the coming months. “(The advocate general) considers the EU tobacco directive of 2014 to be valid, in particular the extensive standardization of packaging, the future EU-wide prohibition on menthol cigarettes and special rules for e-cigarettes are lawful,” the opinion said.

Smoking remains the most significant cause of premature death in the European Union, responsible for nearly 700,000 deaths every year. The EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) was adopted in May 2014 and comes into force in 2016. It requires measures including a ban on menthol cigarettes by 2020 and pictorial and text health warnings across 65 percent of tobacco packages. It also preserves the right of member states to introduce packaging rules that are stricter, such as the “plain packaging” law the British government has passed that bans all colors and logos on cigarette boxes. The legal challenge by Marlboro cigarette maker Philip Morris was combined with one from Lucky Strike maker British American Tobacco. Neither company was immediately available to comment.