The European Commission is being put under pressure to give a clear commitment that it will push ahead with plans to review EU tobacco legislation that could result in the introduction of graphic health warnings on cigarette packets.
East Midlands Labour MEP, Glenis Willmott has today tabled a parliamentary question to coincide with World No Tobacco Day (Tuesday 31 May) demanding confirmation from the European Commission that the EU’s review of its Tobacco Products Directive will be delivered on time.
Plans for a review of the EU law, which lays down minimum standards for the advertising and packaging of tobacco products, have been widely expected to be published later this year.
Recently, however, rumours have emerged suggesting internal delays may mean that the proposals are not released until late 2012.
Health campaigners see the review as a major opportunity to introduce a requirement for cigarette packs to feature prominent images illustrating the health risks of tobacco use, such as pictures of diseased lungs and damaged teeth.
Labour’s Glenis Willmott MEP, who leads the British Labour group in the European Parliament and is spokesperson for Labour MEPs on public health, said: “A delay in the timetable of this review would raise serious concerns about the Commission’s commitment to reducing tobacco use.
“We are hopeful that Commissioner Dalli has heard and understood the concerns of health groups. A firm commitment from the Commissioner to stick to the original timetable will send a strong signal showing that he is serious about protecting public health.”
The delay is significant because campaigners believe that the Danish government, which will take over the EU presidency for the first half of 2012, will be a key ally in the battle to secure tough new measures on cigarette packaging and labelling.
As well as potentially missing the Danish presidency, late publication could also make it difficult to get what will doubtless prove to be a controversial dossier through the European Parliament before the 2014 euro-elections.
Pictorial warnings are already used in many countries, including Australia, Canada and a number of South American countries. Evidence shows that pictures are more effective at communicating the dangers of tobacco use than the text warnings that are currently required. A Eurobarometer survey published last year showed popular support for the warnings, with 75 per cent backing the idea of picture health warnings.
Glenis Willmott added: “There is strong evidence to show that the use of warning images on packets is far more effective than text alone.
“These warnings aren’t just about persuading smokers of the benefits of giving up, they could also play an important role in stopping young people from starting to smoke in the first place.
“Delay by the Commission could cost lives.”