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EU agreement with big tobacco hides smugglers behind smokescreens

Nessa Childers, MEP for Dublin, criticised the European Commission’s ongoing negotiations to renew an agreement on smuggling with the tobacco industry.

A founding member of an MEP working group set up to fight the interference of the tobacco industry in public policy making, Ms. Childers fears that the renewal of the secretive agreement does not properly address illicit trade, depriving the public purse of compensation for tax losses.

The original agreement came about over a decade ago on foot of a settlement of a lawsuit launched by the Commission and a number of EU countries against tobacco giants Philip Morris International, R.J. Reynolds and Japan Tobacco International over a number of offences related to cigarette smuggling, which cost these companies billions of Euros.

Speaking from Strasbourg this week, where the Commission addressed the European Parliament on the matter, Ms. Childers said:

“The Commission is making a serious mistake by entertaining contacts with the tobacco industry to renew these agreements, which are due to lapse next year.

“The initial agreements were born from a settlement to a case where the Commission accused three tobacco manufacturing giants of no less than being part of a global scheme to smuggle cigarettes, launder the profits of narcotics, fix prices, bribe officials and conduct illegal trade with terrorist groups.

“Yet these companies have been put in charge of monitoring counterfeiting in tobacco smuggling seizures. They pay the authorities whenever these are found to be genuine so, unsurprisingly, they have found only 0.5% of seized shipments in 2012 to be genuine.

“This state of affairs is a mockery of enforcement and, to make matters worse, never has a sample been analysed by an independent laboratory, and we know very little of the specifics behind this scheme.

“The Commission has been officially asked by Parliament to conduct a proper assessment of this scheme back in 2012 and this should have happened by now.

“So, not only has the fox been put in charge of the henhouse, but we also have no know idea about what is going on inside, and meanwhile we are mulling over extending its safekeeping role.

“What is more outrageous, is that while these talks are going on, these very same big tobacco companies are challenging the Tobacco Products Directive in the European Court, including its requirement for an EU-wide supply chain track and tracing system.”

“We should be working on how to ratify and implement the WHO Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, which the Commission rightly wants the Council to do, rather than waste time with this farce.”

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