Friday, 21 June 2013

Legal Affairs Committee vote on tobacco: good news for e-cigarettes, bad news for tobacco control

The European Parliament Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee voted today on the opinion of Committee chair Klaus-Heiner Lehne (EPP, Germany) on the tobacco directive. JURI is one of several opinion giving committees which feed into the report of the lead committee -  Environment, Public Health & Food Safety (ENVI) .

In a nutshell, the vote went well in relation to the regulation of e-cigarettes, but badly for tobacco control measures designed to curb tobacco use. Mr Lehne agreed with my amendments on e-cigarettes ( with the exception of the one on marketing restrictions, and they were duly adopted.

However, before anyone cracks open the champagne, please remember that this is only an opinion and the crucial report will be the ENVI committee one (vote scheduled for 11 July), which is what will go to plenary (the whole parliament).

In addition, Mr Lehne's report did not go through with a huge majority as a number of Socialist, Liberal and Green MEPs voted against it or abstained due to the amendments adopted in relation to tobacco control. I personally abstained as I could not vote in favour of an opinion that significantly weakened tobacco control measures compared to the original Commission proposal. Europe is no longer leading the fight against tobacco as countries like Brazil, Canada and Australia steam ahead and see further reductions in tobacco use.

I am unfortunately expecting a tough fight in ENVI to avoid the medicines route or a quasi medicines route for e-cigarettes. I will be working with the ALDE group shadow draftsperson Mrs Frédérique Ries and my North West LibDem colleague Chris Davies to try to come up with a compromise proposal (based on amendments already tabled) that will tighten up the regulation of e-cigarettes sufficiently without regulating them as medicines as to gain the support of those currently backing a pharmaceutical approach. Not easy : (

My red line on e-cigarettes remains that I cannot vote in favour of a regulatory framework that will result in e-cigs being less available than tobacco products. This is not in the interests of public health.

In the JURI committee, the position of the Liberal (ALDE), Socialist (S&D) and Green (Green/EFA) groups on key issues such as health warnings, packaging, characterising flavours and slim cigarettes was very different to the Centre Right (EPP) group. This led to many close votes on such amendments, but sadly virtually each time the votes were (just) lost in favour of a weak approach to tobacco control, which I'm sure will please the tobacco industry.

This is the first time since I became an MEP some 15 months ago that I feel very disappointed with the outcome of votes. Tobacco is a serious public health scourge that kills 700,000 Europeans every year and it demands a strong response.