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FT: EU reaches breakthrough deal on tighter tobacco rules

by Andrew Byrne in Brussels, reporting for the Financial Times:

EU lawmakers approved a deal on Wednesday on stricter tobacco rules that require bigger health warning on cigarette packets and cap the amount of nicotine in so-called e-cigarettes .

The deal, struck between negotiators for the EU’s 28 member states and the European Parliament, will allow a nicotine level of 200mg in a 10ml refillable e-cigarette cartridge – more than in a carton of 200 cigarettes.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, had sought a total ban on refillable nicotine cartridges. The market for e-cigarettes is estimated to be worth $2bn in the US alone and tobacco companies had complained that such restrictions would stifle the industry.

Proponents of a ban on refillables said the health effects of such consumption were uncertain and could be dangerous.

But the ban was opposed by some negotiators from the European Parliament. The compromise deal caps the nicotine level in refillable cartridges and would allow the commission to extend a ban on the products across the EU if three member states introduce one nationally.

Liberal members of the European Parliament have criticised the open-ended threat of a ban on refillable cartridges, which many see as a less harmful alternative to tobacco.

“This creates legal uncertainty that could harm the nascent e-cig industry and the growing number of smokers who are turning to the new electronic products,” said Frédérique Ries, a Belgian Liberal MEP.

The new regulations would also phase out menthol-flavoured cigarettes by 2019 and ban other flavoured tobacco. Packaging rules will force tobacco companies to place graphic health warnings on their product covering 65 per cent of the packet.

Countries will also be allowed to go further on packaging mandates – the Irish government has published draft legislation enforcing plain, non-branded packaging rules for all cigarettes there. The British government has begun a public consultation on the issue.

The EU’s health commissioner, Tonio Borg, said the directive “will ensure that tobacco products look and taste like tobacco products and help discourage young people from starting to smoke.”

The political process around the tobacco products directive has been dogged by controversy. Tobacco companies have been intensively lobbying European parliamentarians and officials on the revised rules for almost two years.

The commissioner responsible for the initiative, John Dalli, was forced to resign last year when the EU’s anti-fraud office alleged that he sought a $60m bribe from a Swedish tobacco firm. Mr Dalli denied the allegation and an investigation cleared him of direct involvement, finding only circumstantial evidence.

Officials familiar with the negotiations said there was an urgency to efforts to have the rules agreed by the end of this week, before the Greek government, seen as softer on tobacco, takes up the EU’s rotating presidency in January. The agreement will be formally approved by MEPs and governments in the coming weeks.

18 Dec 2013

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