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Important points 1994-1999

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Parliament takes on tobacco lobby with advertising ban

 

Over half a million people in the European Union die every year from the consequences of addiction to smoking. In the teeth of fierce opposition from the tobacco giants - and even from some Member States within the Union - the European Parliament has acted to tackle this unacceptable toll of avoidable deaths.

Among other things, it has secured the adoption of a comprehensive Europe-wide legal ban on the advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products from 1 October 2006 at the latest. It has also called for tobacco tax harmonization, including the setting of a minimum level, and wants increased aid for the "Europe against cancer" programme. A yearly prize should also be established, Parliament thinks, for the best anti-tobacco project in the Union.

Advertising ban

The advertising ban is contained in a directive adopted by Council and Parliament incorporating most of the changes proposed by Parliament. The legislation is based on the need to harmonize legislation within the Union and ensure a high level of health protection for Europe's citizens. It incorporates an amendment backed by Parliament giving Member States the right, on health grounds, to prescribe even stricter requirements.

 

The legislation bans all forms of advertising or sponsorship in the Community (excluding television advertising, which is already prohibited). Moreover, since indirect advertising and the free distribution of tobacco products have the same effects as direct advertising, they too are regulated. This includes indirect forms of advertising which, while not mentioning tobacco directly, uses brand names or trademarks associated with tobacco products to sell other goods such as jewellery or clothing.

However, the ban was being challenged in the Court of Justice earlier this year by the German Government and various commercial interests.

 

Protecting children

he advertising ban apart, Parliament has stressed that there can be no conflict between health protection and other Community policies. In particular, it thinks that it should be made harder for children to get hold of tobacco products (eg by banning tobacco vending machines and raising to 18 the minimum age for buying tobacco products). The Commission should launch a legislative initiative seeking to have nicotine delared an addiction-inducing substance and tobacco companies should have to compensate smokers for health damage.

 

Calling for a ban on smoking at work, Parliament insists that "everyone has the right to breathe clean air and this right must always prevail over the right for smokers to smoke". And emphasizing its solidarity with countries outside the Union, Parliament has condemned EU exports of poor quality tobacco to third countries. It believes that the Community should not aid tobacco-related projects in the developing world and that there should be a UN convention on combating tobacco.

 

Tobacco subsidies

However, Parliament is also committed to supporting the Union's Common Agricultural Policy, which includes tobacco. Spending on tobacco in the Union's 1999 budget amounts to a little under one billion euros - around 1 per cent of total expenditure. Producer countries, in order of importance, are Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, Belgium and Austria. Tobacco in the Union is grown by small farmers, not large enterprises. The number of farmers is estimated at 135 000. To this must be added 400 000 seasonal jobs as well as 30 000 posts in the initial stage of processing. The subsidies are required because Community tobacco is uncompetitive in world markets while, at the same time, there is little opportunity for the farmers in question, given the poor quality of the land they farm and their out-of-the way location on the periphery of the Community, to convert to other products - although funds are available to help them convert, where this is possible, or even to give up farming. Parliament has frequently asked the Commission to specify other areas into which tobacco farmers could diversify but to no avail: the possibilities are minimal. Tobacco production is also said to be environmentally friendly and to ensure the maintenance of the rural fabric. There has been a shift in recent years towards the production of higher quality tobacco but this does not mitigate the carcinogenic effects of smoking. However, some research is being carried out into the possible development of less carcinogenic varieties of tobacco.

 

Further information: Patrick REYNOLDS ( tel. 0032-2-284 4706 or email preynolds@europarl.eu.int)

 

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