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Ireland to vote on introducing plain cigarette packets to cut smoking rates

02 December, 2014

Agence France-Presse in Dublin

Ten years since setting a trend with its workplace smoking ban, Ireland is pushing ahead to be the first EU state with plain packaging for cigarettes despite fierce opposition from tobacco companies.

As part of Dublin’s plan to make Ireland a smoke-free society by 2025 – meaning a prevalence rate of under 5 per cent – lawmakers will vote to introduce plain packaging in the new year.

Under the draft legislation before parliament, all forms of branding, including logos and colours, would be banned and all products would have a uniform packaging with graphic health warnings.

“The cigarette box is the last form of advertising that the industry has,” said James Reilly, Ireland’s minister for children who is spearheading the drive.

“Children are influenced by advertising. I believe this will prevent many children from taking up cigarette smoking.” In March 2004, Ireland became the first country in the world to adopt a total workplace smoking ban. A decade on, Ireland is at the forefront for Europe, following Australia’s introduction of similar plain packaging legislation in 2012.

Canberra’s move was met with fierce opposition by tobacco companies and other nations, particularly tobacco-producing economies.

Five World Trade Organisation members have initiated dispute proceedings against Australia’s measures at the WTO, arguing the laws are an illegal restriction on trade.

As was the case in Australia, the tobacco companies are fighting Dublin’s plans. They say plain packaging infringes their intellectual property rights. Philip Morris International said imposing an “arbitrary ban on trademarks ignores the hard data showing that ‘plain packaging’ is misguided and unjustifiable”.

Japan Tobacco International’s general manager in Ireland, Igor Dzaja, said: “No evidence has emerged from Australia, where plain packaging has been in place for almost two years, showing that plain packaging has changed the rate of decline in smoking or has had any actual positive behavioural impact.”

Canberra says daily smoking rates are down from 15.1 per cent to 12.8 per cent in three years.

Pat Doorley, head of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Policy Group on Tobacco, said 50 studies show the measure will work. “The thrust of all these studies is that people prefer packages with the logos and the embossing and the colours to the plain packs,” he said.

“The kids think they’re cooler. The other thing is people are less likely to take notice of health warnings on coloured packets.”

Dublin is also looking to ban smoking in cars with children and to continue increasing the price of tobacco. In last month’s budget, the price of 20 cigarettes was increased to €10 (HK$96).

Draft regulations seeks first nationwide ban on smoking at indoor public spaces

25 November, 2014

Zhuang Pinghui

National regulation, if adopted, would be huge step forward to honour pledge to WHO

The government is seeking public opinion on the first nationwide smoking ban in public spaces, which if implemented would be a big step towards honouring an international commitment to reduce tobacco use.

The Ordinance on Restricting Smoking in Public Spaces, released for public consultation yesterday by the State Council, bans smoking at all indoor, and some outdoor, public spaces.

Yang Gonghuan, a professor at the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and former director of the National Office of Tobacco Control, welcomed the move.

“I am very pleased with the articles of the ordinance, even if it might be a transitional one to higher-level legislation on a smoking ban in indoor public spaces. Let’s hope these articles will stay when the ordinance is officially issued,” Yang said.

She said China was the world’s largest cigarette manufacturer and consumer, with more than 300 million smokers. Some 740 million people, including 180 million children, are affected by second-hand smoke.

The ordinance, if adopted, would be the closest Beijing has come to meeting its pledge to create a tobacco-free indoor environment under the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

China ratified the convention in 2005 but missed the deadline to honour it in 2011.

The draft regulations stop short of full legislation and a tobacco control law has yet to appear on the agenda of the National People’s Congress. But Yang said it would be good enough if the State Council’s ordinance were issued and well implemented.

The draft law requires tobacco manufacturers to print verbal health warnings and graphics that cover at least half the packaging. Such warnings are not required at present.

All kinds of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship would be prohibited, according to the draft, a far cry from the situation today that even allows schools to be named after tobacco companies.

Tobacco control advocates had lobbied the NPC for years without success to pass tobacco-control laws to enable the country to honour its pledge to the WHO anti-smoking convention. Several cities have passed such legislation individually.

Health experts optimistic over anti-smoking law

26 November, 2014

Zhuang Pinghui

Public health experts are optimistic that the mainland’s draft tobacco-control regulation has a good chance of curbing smoking if properly implemented.

The draft regulation, published by the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, proposes banning smoking in all indoor public areas – and certain outdoor ones, near hospitals and kindergartens, for example.

It also calls for all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to be banned, while graphic and verbal health warnings must take up at least half the outside of a cigarette pack.

The draft details specific government agencies that will handle offences in different areas and lists penalties for offenders.

Individuals smoking in forbidden areas will be fined between 50 yuan (HK$63) and 500 yuan and businesses face fines of up to 30,000 yuan or even the revocation of their business licences.

Smoking will not be permitted to be shown in movies or television shows, and scenes of actors lighting up could also attract 30,000 yuan fines.

“We can safely say the draft has thoroughly adopted the most important articles of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” said Yang Jie, a researcher at the office of tobacco control at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

China ratified the convention in 2005 but has failed to introduce a complete smoking ban in indoor public areas, as required.

The issue now is whether the mainland will water down the rules in the final law, and how well it will be implemented.

The lobbying power of the state-owned tobacco monopoly is significant – tobacco sales contributed between 7 per cent and 10 per cent of the country’s tax revenue over the past decade.

“There are some articles in the law that the tobacco companies might oppose during the consultation period. We will send our opinions. We expect there will be some wrangling with the industry,” Yang said.

“As for implementation, the best chance of making it effective is to involve multiple government agencies.”

Smoking is common across the mainland, even in hospitals and government offices. The former health ministry issued its own ban on smoking in indoor public areas but it was poorly implemented. Several cities have introduced their own smoking bans, with some enforced by a dozen or more agencies while others are policed by only a few.

Yang researched 10 cities and found that regulations involving multiple agencies had the best chance of working as long as they had to report to a central office.

Shenzhen, for example, did not hand out a single fine under previous smoking rules, yet had issued more than 300,000 yuan in fines since March when a tougher regulation came into effect.

Wu Yiqun, deputy director of the think tank Research Centre for Health Development, said the law’s articles included details of implementation and accountability. “I am very optimistic,” he said. Both Yang and Wu agreed the State Council’s proposed regulations would help control tobacco use even without a more senior law passed by the NPC, which could take years.

India plans to restrict cigarette sales to those aged at least 25

27 November, 2014

Expert panel proposes cigarette sales be restricted to those aged at least 25, the highest in the world, and that trade in single sticks be banned

Health campaigners have welcomed India’s unprecedented plans to raise the age for tobacco purchases to 25 and ban unpackaged cigarette sales, calling them a major step towards stopping nearly one million tobacco-related deaths a year.

India, with a population of 1.2 billion, would have the world’s highest minimum legal age for buying cigarettes if plans to increase the limit from 18 to 25 were implemented.

The plans, proposed by an expert panel, were announced by health minister J.P. Nadda in parliament on Tuesday and will need final approval by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet as well as parliament before becoming law.

“This is a very welcome move by the government,” Binoy Mathew, spokesman for the non-profit Voluntary Health Association of India, said. “It’s going to act as a huge deterrent, especially for students and youngsters.”

Around 900,000 people die of tobacco-related illnesses in India each year, the second-highest number after China.

An estimated 70 per cent of cigarettes sold in India are unpackaged, equating to more than 100 billion sticks in 2012, according to market researcher Euromonitor.

Campaigners say the practice of selling single cigarettes at street stalls has pushed up smoking rates, particularly among teenagers and the poor who cannot afford a full packet.

“These people were easily buying single sticks for 10 to 15 rupees, but now they will have to shell out some 200 rupees (HK$25) for the full pack, which will not be so easy,” said Mathew.

Indians consume tobacco in several forms apart from cigarettes, including “gutka” – a cheap, mass-produced mix of tobacco, crushed areca nut and other ingredients – and hand-rolled sticks called “beedis”.

New Delhi announced last month that tobacco companies would have to stamp health warnings across 85 per cent of the surface of cigarette packets from next year.

Monica Arora, from the Public Health Foundation of India, applauded the jump in the minimum age for buying cigarettes.

“Research shows that if someone hasn’t started smoking at 21, chances of that person becoming a tobacco user drops drastically,” said Arora, director of the foundation’s tobacco control initiatives. “Ninety per cent of youth take to smoking before the age of 18 and they experiment by buying single cigarettes.

“Now they will have to buy full packs which will have pictorial warnings and they would get reminded of the dangers every time they reach out for a smoke.”

The proposed ban would badly affect companies such as ITC, India’s largest cigarette maker, which earned US$164 million from sales in 2013-14.

Arora acknowledged that enforcement of any law would be difficult and would need a community-led approach. Cigarettes are sold at small stands on most street corners.

“If you sensitise the retailers and tell them about what is illegal and that there are strict penalties, they would not want to violate the laws,” she said.

Researchers say inadequate public awareness of smoking risks, coupled with aggressive tobacco marketing, has left Asian nations with some of the world’s highest smoking rates, at a time when sustained campaigns have cut rates in the US, Australia and parts of Europe.

Beijing’s revised smoking bill sets a poor example

29 September, 2014

SCMP Editorial

It is bad enough when people become addicted to smoking. It is worse when the state becomes hooked on their habit. While a smoker can find it hard to quit for good, the state can also find it difficult to adjust. The craving in the latter case is for the revenue from commercial-industrial taxes on the tobacco industry, not to mention the enormous profits generated by a state tobacco monopoly on the mainland and the potential for official corruption.

We trust these are not factors behind the decision by the Beijing municipal government to water down a law on public smoking indoors that was hailed by tobacco control advocates as significant progress. The official explanation for it was to remove ambiguity. But the World Health Organisation is not convinced. “It would be a great shame – and a tremendous waste of life – if Beijing’s leaders let special interests derail progress towards passage of a law [for a] comprehensive ban on indoor public smoking,” said Dr Bernard Schwartlander, WHO representative in China.

The proposed law, when unveiled in April, beefed up restrictions on smoking to include all indoor public spaces including public transport. When the bill was presented for a second reading in July, the ban was amended to “shared indoor areas of offices”. This would exempt offices with a single occupant, most likely an official or boss. It conjures up an image of someone sitting in an office wreathed in smoke while staff who enter or work nearby are exposed to second-hand smoke. It also reinforces the perception of one law for the elite and another for everyone else.

This is disappointing in light of plans for a nationwide smoking ban in public places. It makes a continuing mockery of China’s commitments under the WHO framework convention on tobacco control. Smoking is responsible for more than one million deaths on the mainland every year. The cost in lost revenue and profit of reducing it has to be weighed against the economic costs of not doing so. This is one issue on which the nation’s capital should set a good example, not a poor one.

No ifs, no butts: UK’s £100m e-cigarette industry up in smoke?

October 21, 2014

British people are becoming less attracted to smoking both tobacco and e-cigarettes, with a majority favoring a total ban on the use of the electronic devices indoors, new data shows.

The data, collected by pollster YouGov and the Sunday Times, shows around 60 percent of Britons would like to see e-cigarette devices – that imitate real tobacco, but produce a generally harmless vapor – banned in public buildings.

Such a ban would extend to workplaces and shopping centers. In contrast, only 27 percent of people are against the prohibition.

The data comes despite a huge increase in the number of Britons using E-Cigs. The health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) estimates around 2.1 million people in the UK use the devices.

According to the ASH study, which was published in April this year, the majority of users switched to E-Cigs as a way to help them quit smoking.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed doubts over claims the devices assist quitting, while the YouGov poll indicates only 9 percent of E-Cig users found the devices helped them kick their habit.

Earlier this year, the WHO advised governments to place stronger limits on the use of e-cigarettes, claiming the chemicals contained in vapors were potentially harmful to children, as well as the environment.

Experts have hit out at the WHO’s findings, asserting the devices, on balance, are significantly safer than normal cigarettes and that the report did not paint a complete picture of the benefits of using E-Cigs.

“There are currently two products competing for smokers’ custom,” Peter Hajek, of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University, told the Daily Mail.

“One – the conventional cigarette – endangers users and bystanders and recruits new customers from among non-smoking children who try it. The other – the e-cigarette – is orders of magnitude safer, poses no risk to bystanders, and generates negligible rates of regular use among non-smoking children who try it.”

The E-Cig market it worth more than £1.8bn globally. The UK is one of the product’s largest markets, where its total estimated value is nearly £100mn.

According to experts, the vapors from E-Cigs are intended to be a thousand times less toxic than normal cigarette smoke, although there has been no conclusive study into the potential dangers of the vapor.

While the British Medical Association (BMA) has not made any plans to propose curbs on the use of E-Cigs, they have said that controls are needed to ensure it does not undermine existing law relating to cigarette use.

“Stronger controls are needed on where e-cigarettes can be used to protect others from exposure, to ensure their use does not undermine existing restrictions on smoke-free public places … and to guarantee the use of e-cigarettes does not reinforce the normalcy of smoking behavior,” chairman of the BMA board Sheila Collins told the Sunday Times.

The YouGov poll also illustrated a growth in the number of people supporting further bans on smoking in public places, such as parks and outdoor restaurants. More than half of those surveyed wanting to see further limits on smokers.

It is expected that London Mayor Boris Johnson will adopt proposals for public smoking bans in the city before the end of his tenure in 2016.

Tobacco Companies Could Lose Investment Protection Rights in Pacific Trade Deal

Finbarr Bermingham

Oct 22, 2014

Tobacco companies may be excluded from the investor protection chapter of the free trade agreement between the US and 11 other Pacific nations, according to reports.

A Reuters source “who has knowledge of the negotiations” said the US is to suggest that the tobacco industry should not have the right to sue governments for introducing anti-smoking healthcare regulation, as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

There are a number of high-profile cases currently underway, whereby tobacco companies are using the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause of existing free trade agreements to challenge government rulings that damage their profits.

In Australia, Philip Morris International (PMI), the Swiss-based manufacturer of Marlboro, is suing the government for introducing plain packaging. In Uruguay, it is pursuing the government in the courts over anti-smoking legislation (for example, the ‘single presentation’ requirement that prohibits marketing more than one tobacco product under each brand and the requirement that health warnings cover 80% of a cigarette pack).

In both cases, PMI says this damages the company’s brand and trademarks.

TPP negotiations are ongoing in Australia, with the host nation joined at the table by the US, Japan, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Mexico, Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Brunei and New Zealand.

Reuters reported that the US is considering tabling the idea at this round of talks and the reaction will be watched closely from Europe, where ISDS is forming a key part of the debate around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the free trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and US.

Today (22 October), the new European Commission was voted in by the European Parliament, with the President and Trade Commissioner both making strong statements on ISDS.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission’s new president, said in a parliamentary address in Strasbourg this morning that his commission “will not accept that the jurisdiction of courts in the EU member states be limited by special regimes for investor-to-state disputes” – suggesting that he is keen to move away from the private tribunal scenario that typically defines ISDS hearings.

He has tasked Frans Timmermans, the commission’s first vice-president, with advising him on the issue, saying: “There will be no investor-to-state dispute clause in TTIP if Frans does not agree with it too.”

This would seem to imply that Juncker supports the kind of ISDS included in the free trade agreement with Canada, which has been finalised but not ratified. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) included a reformed ISDS clause, whereby the European Commission is thought to have negotiated safeguards to ensure ISDS could not be used to block government decisions over national legislation.

The culture and airline sectors are set to be exempt from ISDS in Ceta, meaning that there would be some precedent should the US decide to negotiate the exclusion of tobacco in both TPP and TTIP.

Cecilia Malmström, the new trade commissioner, has sought to allay rumours of a dispute over ISDS with Juncker. Taking to social media, she said there are “no differences in the commission on ISDS”, saying she looked forward to addressing the issue with Juncker and Timmermans.

She added: “If it is to be included in TTIP, ISDS must indeed be reformed”.

Timmermans will oversee regulatory reform within the commission and is set to be given the authority to slash red tape and rework subsidiarity (whereby decisions are taken on a national government level rather than centrally).

In his address, Juncker announced that Timmermans – a Dutch Labour politician – will also have “horizontal responsibility for sustainable development”.

It led one MEP to remark to IBTimes UK that he is “being given everything that seems to be causing the commission trouble”.

Speaking earlier this year on TTIP, Timmermans said: “It is very simple, if we are able to see TTIP for what it is: not a free trade agreement. TTIP is a geostrategic agreement. It is a political agreement. It should not be left up to people who know everything about the way you slaughter chickens. It should be something our political leaders should take up and decide on soon.

“When you have TTIP in place, it will change the nature of the game globally. Because then the United States and Europe will set the rules of the game, and the others will follow suit, including China, Japan and others.”

All systems go for BIR’s stamp tax project

MANILA, Philippines – Its all systems go for the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s stamp tax project following the approval by the Department of Finance of the proposed revenue regulation mandating the affixture of stamps on all imported and locally made cigarettes.

Under the Internal Revenue Stamp System (IRSIS), every packet of locally-manufactured cigarettes must bear a stamp tax by Oct. 1 to indicate that the required excise tax has been paid by the manufacturers.

Imported cigarettes, on the other hand, will have the new stamp tax starting Feb. 2015.

The IRSIS allows authorities to further secure the distribution system as well as aid in the investigation of illicit trade.

Under this system, it is possible to quickly distinguish genuine from counterfiet cigarettes and to verify the authenticity of the tax stamps applied on the packs by manufacturers.

BIR commissioner Kim Henares said the new regulation is key to the government’s anti-smuggling strategy as the stamps serve as effective tracking and audit tools to ensure that all due taxes are collected on cigarettes.

“This measure will strengthen our capacity to combat smuggling of tobacco products. We believe in implementing regulations with enough teeth to bite down on smugglers who are intent on depriving the nation of critical resources for greed and private gain,” Henares said.

To effectively monitor  the movement of tobacco products, the BIR will order the installation of a close circuit television monitoring system on all production and withdrawal points in the premises of all cigarette firms.

Aside from curbing illicit  cigarette sales, the trace and trace system is expected to help  raise additional revenues for the government, said Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima.

“In 2013, revenues from the Sin Tax Law were 51 percent higher than projected. Simple governance measures like this enable the government to push harder in driving our revenue collection performance ever upwards. We are consistently looking at ways to enhance the government’s ability to raise revenues at a critical time requiring much investments to our infrastructure, services, and people,” Purisima said.

All importers and local cigarette manufacturers are required to enroll or register with the IRSIS prior before they purchase the stamps.

Illicit trade has become a concern for some major tobacco manufacturers and some organizations.

A study done by the UK-based think tank Oxford Economics, together with the International Tax and Investment Center, showed that the Philippines has become one of the biggest markets for illegal cigarette sales, accounting for 34.5 percent of all untaxed cigarettes consumed within ASEAN, the second highest after Vietnam which took up a 39-percent share.

ITIC president Daniel A. Witt said the Philippines now has the fastest growing black market as one out of five cigarettes sold in the country is illegal.

Illicit consumption across Asia was estimated to have increased by 20.1 percent to 79.9 billion cigarettes, mainly driven by the 198-percent surge in illegal cigarette sales in the Philippines.

On the other hand, Pakistan and Singapore saw significant declines in the share of illicit consumption.

According to the study, the Philippines also posted the biggest jump in tax loss from illicit consumption at 49 percent, representing 9.4 percent of the total $3.9-billion losses incurred by the ASEAN region. The largest tax losses were in Australia ($1.35 billion), Malaysia ($624 million) and Hong Kong ($395 million).

September 16, 2014

Plunge in smoking attributed to plain packaging

July 17, 2014

Harriet Alexander

A dramatic decline in smoking rates has coincided with the introduction of plain-packaging laws.

The daily smoking rate plunged from 15.1 per cent to 12.8 per cent between 2010 and 2013, according to the largest and longest-running national survey on drug statistics.

Most people are now 16 before they smoke their first full cigarette, up from 14 in 2010, and 95 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds have never smoked.

Public health experts say the findings of the National Drugs Strategy Household Survey vindicate plain-packaging laws, which tobacco companies recently claimed to have boosted cigarette sales by leading to a price war.

“It’s almost like finding a vaccine that works very well against lung cancer,” said Simon Chapman, a professor in public health at the University of Sydney.

“It’s that big. This will give enormous momentum to the international push for plain packaging right around the world.”

India and France are considering plain packaging laws. Ireland, New Zealand and Britain have legislation before their parliaments.

The survey of nearly 24,000 Australians was conducted between July and December 2013, before the new 12.5 per cent tobacco tax.

“We know that that tax has a lot of influence over consumption so it’s really important that the data was collected before that,” Professor Chapman said.

“The only thing that happened in the 12 months before that was the introduction of plain packaging laws.”

Geoff Neideck of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which conducts the survey every two to three years, said the results were continued a longer trend, which has seen smoking rates halved since 1991.

The plain-packaging laws should be seen in the context of changing attitudes and cultural practices, he said.

Sixteen-year-old Gabe Hutcheon said on Wednesday he had no desire to try smoking.

“My granddad died from it, so I’ll go my whole life without smoking,” he said.

“It’s expensive, but I don’t care about that. All the ads show what it can do.”

The price of the the average packet of cigarettes has been in a steep upward trajectory since 2000.

Gemma Jones, 16, agreed, although she doubted whether the plain packaging was a deterrent.

“If people want to smoke they will do it,” she said. “It’s stupid, smells like shit and it kills people.”

The president of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, Mike Daube, said they were the best results he had seen in his 40-year career in health policy.

The National Preventative Health Taskforce in 2009 set a target of 10 per cent adult prevalence by 2018.

” I think we are now going to beat that, and once we’re below 10 per cent I think we will see an even faster decline as smoking essentially becomes an abnormal behaviour,” Professor Daube said.

He attributed the figures to effective media campaigns, tax increases and bipartisan political approach to reducing smoking, as well as the plain packaging laws.

“The plain packaging has been a crucial factor in the last two to three years,” he said.

– with Eryk Bagshaw

World Health Organisation says Pacific considering cigarette plain packaging

The World Health Organisation says a number of countries across the Pacific are considering following in Australia’s footsteps and introducing plain packaging of cigarettes.

The WHO is set to join governments across the region in a major drive to make the Pacific tobacco free within 10 years.

The WHO Pacific coordinator of non-communicable diseases, Dr Temo Waqanivalu, says the project will be launched in Honiara in two weeks and plain packaging is among the tactics being considered.

“The actual measure itself is something that’s greatly supported and there are a few countries that are ahead of the game, (they) are actually talking of moving there now,” Dr Waqanivalu told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat.

“They’ve done the graphic warnings on the packets so the next step after that is to actually move towards plain packaging.”

Dr Waqanivalu says increasing the tax on cigarettes and cracking down on the tobacco black market are the keys to reduce smoking.

“If those two happen, well then especially the young smokers, the youth, they’re the first ones who actually going to begin to quit,” he said.

“Economic ministers should really think seriously about assisting… part of that is facilitating increased taxation on tobacco cigarettes.”

The WHO says Cook Islands has been a leader on reducing smoking, having significantly increased the price of cigarettes with plans for further rises.

“Cook Islands is really exemplary of what we are trying to promote across the Pacific and they’ve done exceptionally well.”

But Dr Waqanivalu says the tobacco industry is fighting back.

“We know the tobacco industry is always at work,” he said. “We see them influencing ministries of health.”

Dr Waqanivalu says the WHO’s plans also involve setting up services to help people quit.

30 Jun 2014