EU officials fear tobacco lobby may derail anti-smoking law

Reuters

* Law would require bigger warnings on packs

* Lobbying is "unprecedentedly intense"

* Ministers issue call for action

By Claire Davenport

BRUSSELS, Oct 4 (Reuters) - European officials complained onFriday that legislation regulating the sale of tobacco productsis being held up in the European Parliament because of intenselobbying by cigarette manufacturers.

The EU Tobacco Products Directive calls for mandatory textand picture health warnings covering 75 percent of the front andback of cigarette packs and would ban the sale of speciallyflavoured cigarettes such as menthol and cinnamon.

The proposed measures were agreed among EU member states inJune. The 750-member parliament will hold a vote on Oct. 8 todecide whether to move forward with negotiations on theproposals or allow time for further amendments.

"There is an unprecedentedly intense lobbying campaign fromthe industry going on inside the European Parliament with theexpress intention of trying to frustrate this legislation," asenior Irish official said on Friday, briefing journalists oncondition of anonymity.

"This is completely on a scale way beyond lobbying thatnormally goes on."

He said officials had been surprised to discover thatcigarette manufacturers and their lobbyists had knowledge ofprecise elements of the law barely 24 hours after they wereagreed behind closed doors.

"The level of lobbying at the moment exceeds any campaignthat has gone on in the parliament in recent years," he said.

The aim of the legislation is to combat smoking among theyoung and cut down on the estimated 700,000 EU citizens who dieof tobacco-related causes each year.

CALL BY MINISTERS

In an unusual move, 16 of the EU's health ministers issued ajoint statement on Friday urging the parliament to beginnegotiating with EU governments on the legislation as quickly aspossible so as to finalise the law by the end of the year.

"Ministers urged MEPs to take this opportunity tosignificantly improve the health of millions of EU citizens byworking with the Council and the European Commission for theearly adoption of the Tobacco Products Directive," they said.

Parliament will hold a first vote on amendments to theproposal on Tuesday as well as decide whether to beginnegotiating with governments. If it rejects negotiations so asto allow more time for amendments, it would force further delaysand would mean the law is not approved for another year or more.

Among the amendments are calls to reduce the size of healthwarnings to 50 percent from 75 percent and to allow menthol as aflavouring.

Philip Morris and other manufacturers have beenwidely criticised by officials, diplomats and some MEPs for theextent and intensity of their lobbying against the legislation.

Internal Philip Morris documents leaked to the media andseen by Reuters show that lobbyists have held over 250 meetingswith members of parliament to discuss the legislation,especially with conservatives.

In a statement last month responding to criticism, PhilipMorris said it was merely trying to express its views on thelegislative proposals, and pointed out that it employed 12,500people in the EU and had invested hundreds of millions of euros.

"The argument that we should remain silent in the face of aproposal that directly concerns us, and on which we have factsand improvement ideas to share, is illogical," said DragoAzinovic, the president of the company for the EU region.

"We have and will continue to express our views proactivelyand transparently. As the EU itself says, this kind ofinteraction is 'constant, legitimate and necessary for thequality of democracy'."

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