Further delay in the revision of the EU Tobacco Products Directive

February 29, 2012 12:00 AM
The tobacco industry plauds and the public health community grumbles

Now it is official : the publication of the Commission proposal revising the EU Tobacco Products Directive has once more been postponed. The tobacco industry plauds and the public health community grumble.
Although all facts and rumors seemed to hint  towards a further delay, this outcome has now been confirmed. The presentation of the proposal is not expected to occur before the 4th quarter of 2012.
Commissioner Dalli is expected to meet with NGOs today and will be meeting with the tobacco industry on March 7.
The declared goal of these two meetings – which we do know whether they have been prompted by the request of the industry and/or the NGOs or originated by the Commission itself –  is "to listen to, and take stock of the views and concerns of stakeholders affected by the revision". According to the Commission, "these meetings are part of a wider consultation process, including a public consultation which yielded an all-time high record of contributions. The data collected are used to conduct the impact assessment for the revision of the Directive". The language employed seems to suggest that the impact assessment exercise is still ongoing and therefore the drafting of the proposal still in its infancy.
Although one may only speculate about the reasons behind this 1-year delay (when compared to the original roadmap), there are several factors that seem to have contributed to it. While it is undisputed that the record number of responses generated by the public consultation has slowed down the work of the Commission services, the lawsuits currently pending before the ICSID against Australia (plain packaging) and Uruguay (size of warning claims) also forced the Commission to carefully assess the impact of its proposal under EU international obligations. However, as stated by Commissioner Dalli in tempore non suspecto, “We are not waiting for the outcome, in any case. We are going to continue to progress on our own studies and evaluations and I am sure that the results will be very interesting”.
Oh, yeah : very interesting indeed. Should the proposal be published at the end 2012, this will leave a little more than one year to the Parliament and the Council for adoption. This may cast some doubts on the future of this proposal. Indeed, given the inherent controversial character of the proposal, to work out an agreement by Spring 2014 - before the EP elections and the renewal of the Commission - may reveal mission impossible.
The minutes of today’s meeting and that with the industry will be published on the website of the Health and Consumers department of the European Commission here.
Interestingly enough, the Commission declared that it does so "in the spirit of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)". In reality it does so first to abide by its own minimum stakeholder consultation and transparency standards, and second to implement Article 5.3 of the FCTC and its Guidelines. Yet, what these guidelines require the Commission to do – besides being accountable and transparent in its contacts with the tobacco industry – is to "establish measures to limit interactions with that industry". 
How to reconcile the minimum stakeholder consultation standards (imposing the EU to interact with all stakeholders, including the tobacco industry) and Article 5.3 FCTC (declaring a 'fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests') ?
It seems that any plausible solution to this conundrum has been postponed too.




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