Posted on November 18, 2013 by Rebecca Taylor MEP Negotiations between the European Parliament and national governments (“trialogues”) on the tobacco products directive have begun and several meetings have already taken place. There is a strong desire to try and reach agreement on the tobacco directive during the Lithuanian Presidency, which runs until the end of the year.

National governments are represented by the Lithuanian Presidency and the EP negotiating team is led by the rapporteur Labour MEP Linda McAvan, along with the shadow rapporteurs from the other political groups. The Liberal group is represented by Belgian Liberal MEP Fr d rique Ries, co author along with myself and Chris Davies of amendment 170 on e cigarettes.

After the first trialogue meeting which addressed the issue of e cigarettes, Fr d rique tweeted the following
“#trilogue #ecig a va mal, la Pr sidence lituanienne ne veut rien entendre, RIEN. Pas un geste, aucune volont ! Je bataille contre un mur”
(translation “It’s going badly for e cigs in trialogue, the Lithuanian Presidency doesn’t want to listen at all. Not a gesture, no willingness whatsoever! I am fighting against a brick wall”)
However, along with Fr d rique, the centre right (EPP) and Conservative (ECR) shadow rapporteurs, German MEP Karl Heinz Florenz and UK Tory MEP Martin Callanan made it clear that e cigarettes were a red line for their respective groups. If those three groups (ALDE, EPP and ECR) vote along the same lines, they form a majority in the European Parliament and once an agreement is reached on the tobacco directive, it will have to be approved by the Parliament (a simple yes/no vote).
An agreement on the tobacco directive which is not fully supported by three political groups which constitute a majority of MEPs is unwise, and therein lies the hope for sensible regulation of e cigarettes.
Since the July 2013 position of national governments on the tobacco directive, which included an agreement to support medicines regulation for e cigarettes, the ground has shifted significantly. Not only did the European Parliament clearly vote against medicines regulation, but action at national level has drawn this matter to public and political attention. In addition, there have apparently been complaints to the Lithuanians that they are going too quickly on e cigs without allowing national governments the chance to consider other options.

The key country right now is France, which is believed to no longer be supportive of the medicines route for e cigarettes (and was reluctantly supportive previously), although no official change of position has been announced. In France, 100 leading doctors recently sent a letter to the French government asking them to act on this issue and push for sensible regulation. It is thought that if France changes its position on e cigs, this may lead other countries to do the same.

The irony of a Socialist government in France opposing medicines regulation of e cigs, contrary to the position of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, while a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government in the UK supports medicines regulation against its own MEPs, is not lost on me!
What is needed right now from a UK perspective is to get increasing numbers of Westminster MPs to question the government/MHRA position. Some Liberal Democrat colleagues of mine at Westminster including Norman Lamb MP, the social care minister, Dan Rogerson MP and Lorely Burt MP have been doing this as has Conservative MP Sarah Woolleston, who is a GP.

Along with Chris Davies, I will carry on trying to win over LibDem colleagues at Westminster, but this effort needs to be extended to Conservative and Labour MPs too. I would therefore repeat my previous call for concerned individuals to contact their MP to raise this issue (see previous blog ).
It would also be worth noting when you contact MPs that the MHRA is still (as of last week Jeremy Mean spoke at the e cigarettes summit in London /) unable to give more than very vague answers to specific questions about how e cigarettes could be regulated as medicines. This does not fill me with confidence…..

The battle for sensible regulation of e cigs is not yet over and can still be won!

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Euobserver / eu ministers endorse ban on menthol cigarettes

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The European Commission had proposed a warning to cover 75 percent of the package but health ministers agreed to 65 percent. Member states are free to implement a larger size.

Similar warnings would also extend to electronic cigarettes, herbal products for smoking, and any tobacco product that enters the market after the directive goes into force.

Labels such as &#x2018 natural&#x2019 or &#x2018 organic&#x2019 must also be removed.

Reilly described smoking as one of the &#x201C greatest, preventable, avoidable threats to people&#x2019 s health&#x201D .

The commission estimates some 700,000 people die from tobacco related illnesses every year in the EU with many others suffering from chronic illnesses. Costs to the health care systems hover around &#x20AC 25 billion.

&#x201C The economic arguments for not intervening can carry no weight&#x2026 it can never be a choice between jobs and lives,&#x201D said Reilly.

Reilly said the design of slim cigarette packages are geared to appeal to young people.

&#x201C We have to take every opportunity we can to make sure more people not become enslaved to this product,&#x201D he said.

He said more research is also needed to gauge the level of harm caused by electronic cigarettes because they contain nicotine.

&#x201C To promote it as a safe alternative, when we can&#x2019 t say that for certainty, is problematic for me,&#x201D he noted.

&#x201C I&#x2019 ll continue fighting until we do reach a stage where we have a tobacco free Europe,&#x201D he said.

The new rules should come into force in three to four years but must first make their way through the European Parliament&#x2019 s lead committee in July.

Formal negotiations with the parliament will start afterwards.

For his part, EU health commissioner Tonio Borg welcomed the decision, describing the ministerial discussions around the directive as &#x201C nail biting&#x201D .

The commission has said it wants to reduce the number of smokers by 2.4 million over the next five years.

&#x201C I think today we have done a first step, which is not the last step, but an important first step,&#x201D he said.