A very revealing report has been published by the European Commission. In it we see the wide divide between the powers that be, the hangers-on and the public citizen. It is an interim report into the latest plans to dehumanise the smoker, or otherwise known as Report on the public consultation on the possible revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (2001/37/EC).EU Consultation Report on Smoking
The question is: shall we make the laws against smoking in public more onerous, shall we create more restrictions on tobacco products, shall we make health warnings bigger, shall we point out that smokers eat babies and are often seen strangling fluffy kittens etcetera. Here is a small collection of the responses.
From Governmental Representatives
A significant majority of Member States who submitted contributions to the public consultation were either in favour of extending the scope of the Directive or did not refer to the question in a detailed manner.
The majority of Member States were in favour of banning all types of smokeless tobacco products, which was also the position of the two EFTA countries responding to the consultation.
While most Member States were in favour of all proposed policy options for improving consumer information, plain packaging proved to be the most controversial. Almost half of respondents supported the introduction of plain packaging alongside the other recommended changes, but several indicated that the solutions to these problems should be more carefully analysed. A small number of Member States were in favour of maintaining the existing regulations, noting a strong reservation against plain packaging.
Member States were in favour of establishing a common compulsory reporting format for communicating ingredients information.
Almost all Member States supported some form of increased tobacco control across the range of options, though the specific breakdown of options was quite varied. Most Member States supported a ban on internet sales or a ban on vending machines.
From Non-Governmental Organisations
Now there are two forms of NGOs in this list, those funded by governments, and those supporting smokers rights which are not. I shall concentrate on the publicly funded para-governmental organisations – here called ‘Public Health Organisations’.
Public health organisations universally supported regulating tobacco and nicotine products, on the grounds of the potential health dangers of these products. Many argued for the strict limitation of novel forms of nicotine delivery systems, whereby these nicotine systems should only be sold as smoking cessation aids, subject to the regulatory framework on pharmaceutical products. They also argued for the inclusion of herbal cigarettes into this framework, citing that the most harm from these products has to do with the combustion and inhalation of smoke, which is identical to cigarette usage.
Public health organisations emphatically maintained the ‘high priority’ status of the current ban on snus within the EU. According to these respondents, there is no legitimate reason to introduce a dangerous product onto the market, because it is impossible to predict how snus would be perceived or used in other countries.
Arguments were presented to increase the size of the pictorial warnings to 80% of the pack, to regularly rotate warning messages to maintain the ‘freshness’ of each statement, and to include information on the packaging about a ‘quit line’ to help stop smoking.
Additionally, public health organisations opted for plain packaging on the grounds that branding tactics used today can give the consumer a false sense that one pack may be safer than another.
Almost all respondents pushed for the need to establish a common compulsory reporting format and to introduce fees and sanctions to cover the costs of data collection and analysis work on ingredients.
Public health organisations were universally in favour of banning all possible categories in this question. Banning sales of tobacco via the internet was argued to be a logical extension of the ban on cross-border advertising and promotion of tobacco products within the EU.
Banning vending machine access was justified by public health organisations on the grounds that most Member States already have bans or restrictions in place, which have been shown to reduce youth smoking rates. Finally, restricting display and promotion of tobacco products at the point of sale was claimed to be justified because it is or will soon be mandatory in some Member States. Proponents argued that restricting display of tobacco products also helps limit youth smoking and could help deter tobacco purchases by adults.
You get the idea: bans, restrictions, more legislation, harsher controls and so on from both governments and their paid paramilitaries.
Now let’s see what the citizen responses were. Could they differ from those that govern them? Could they disagree with those that know so much more than them? Maybe…
A significant majority of respondents were against extending the scope of the Directive. While many presented that the problem definition was incorrect, vague, or unclear, the group as a whole demanded more scientific inquiry about the relative safety of novel forms of tobacco and other nicotine products. These respondents also argued about the consumer’s freedom of choice, so long as they are properly informed with the risks involved, and they criticised the tendency to over-regulate and prohibit products in this area.
A vast majority of respondents not only disagreed with the problem definition but were in favour of lifting the ban on snus. With the problem definition, several respondents were concerned that the Commission’s approach was too simplistic and overstated – referring to the complex nature and health effects of a diverse smokeless tobacco products market. Those in favour of lifting the ban on snus argued that scientific evidence showed that smokeless products were much healthier alternatives to tobacco smoking. Several respondents pushed for smokeless tobacco products to be priced cheaper than combustible products, in order to reduce the demand for cigarettes. Others were concerned about their freedom of choice as consumers, with several arguing that those over 18 years old should be free to decide for themselves. Still others felt that the EU already had too many regulations in place to begin creating more.
Largely in favour of maintaining the status quo, most respondents suggested that little, if any, scientific evidence exists to show that many of these options are effective ways to reduce smoking rates, or reduce youth uptake. They also argued that the EU did not need to establish more restrictions; smokers were already facing too much regulation to use a product they are legally entitled to consume. Education, they suggest, should not only be limited to the tobacco packaging, but should also be increased in schools and public campaigns. Finally, some respondents were worried that the use of plain packaging not only prevented free competition between manufacturers, but also increased the likelihood of counterfeit products entering the market.
Respondents were generally in favour of establishing a common compulsory reporting format, insomuch as the format was based on appropriate scientific criteria, and not based on concepts such as attractiveness. They, like many of the organisations and governments above, argued that the current ingredients reporting situation is fragmented, making it difficult for authorities to compare and analyse ingredients data. Manufacturers and importers, they reasoned, should be subject to the same reporting standards. Other respondents furthered this point by demanding that consumers have a right to know what is inside the products they use….
However, on the whole, not all respondents were in favour of changes to the status quo. Many advocated no restrictions, no further bans, and no changes, resulting in more freedom for tobacco products and their users. Others utilised this section to insert more general commentary on the EU’s role in standardising product regulation.
A significant majority of respondents disagreed with the regulation of ingredients at the EU level. The majority of respondents referred to the lack of scientific evidence for such regulation on reducing tobacco consumption or youth uptake. Additionally, they criticised the term ‘attractiveness’ as a justification for the EU to arbitrarily decide which ingredients will be allowed and which not. The other arguments referred to a consumer’s freedom of choice and a generally critical response to the EU’s tendency to over-regulate.
A significant majority of respondents opposed limiting access to tobacco products. The most commonly discussed issue was the display ban, where citizen arguments were similar to those used by industry representatives. The limitation of the legitimate use of the trademarks and branding displays, the lack of the possibility for customers to be fully informed about the accessibility, the price and characteristic of products and potential increase of the illicit trade were the most often used arguments. Some of the responses referred to the lack of scientific evidence that bans on the point of sale display of tobacco would impact smoking behaviour.This argument also referred to a lack of research regarding both vending machines and internet sales. The significant majority of respondents perceived these restrictions as an excessive intervention in a consumer’s right to decide. Rather, these respondents opted for more effective controls, such as age verification, in these channels of tobacco products.
Here we see it writ large. Those with cash and power want increasing control, those without it don’t. Those with cash and power want action before evidence, those without want to see evidence before action. Those with power and cash want legislation restrictions and bans, those without complain that there are too many controls already.
Now when the recommendations arrive in a few months, who do we think the EU will listen to?