The EU has launched a public consultation on how it can update its tobacco control framework by revising the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and the Tobacco Advertising Directive (TAD).
This consultation marks the second stage of the process; the first was a call for evidence, and the third is to be a targeted consultation for industry members. The public consultation runs until 16th May. Following this and the third stage, the European Commission (EC) will prepare a proposal for the revised TPD.
The EC conducts multiple consultation activities to ensure transparent policy-making and gather evidence from industry members. The consultations aim to identify knowledge gaps, collect qualitative and quantitative data, and gather information on implementation challenges, promotors and barriers. They also seek to assess past practices and identify areas for improvement. Another purpose of the consultations is to understand the different views and arguments of tobacco industry insiders.
The questionnaires for the consultations vary depending on the type of respondent – citizens, non-governmental organisations, public authorities or tobacco industry companies, for example.
Around 10,000 European citizens (92% of respondents), 600 industry businesses (6.3%), 32 academic institutions (0.31%), 20 non-governmental organisations (0.21%), 15 business associations, 15 consumer organisations, and 5 public authorities have participated in the public consultation.
Germany has the highest participation, with 34%, followed by Italy with 12%, and Greece with 10%. Romania represents 7%, and Spain, the Czech Republic, Croatia, and France each represent 5%.
Mum’s the word when it comes to sharing answers
TobaccoIntelligence sought to find out what individual respondents of note have said to European authorities as part of the consultation. However, many respondents were unwilling to provide their opinions on the TPD public consultation questionnaires, as they were still reviewing and preparing their responses for submission to the Commission.
For instance, this was the case with Japan Tobacco International (JTI), which said it was “in the process of preparing our input and views to inform the policy-making process”, a spokesperson told TobaccoIntelligence. The spokesperson added: “We do not plan to state or comment on this matter during the consultation period. After the deadline, stakeholders’ responses will be made publicly available.”
The same held true for French organisation Comité National Contre le Tabagisme (CNCT, National Committee Against Tobacco), which is also active at the European level.
CNCT spokesperson Amélie Eschenbrenner said: “The Committee is part of the European Smoke Free Partnership coalition, and we are working closely with them on this issue. However, no official position has been established yet.
“It is imperative for all health actors and associations to present a united front so as not to appear disjointed during the consultation and to hope to be heard.”
ESTA has plenty to say, and plenty of doubts
Peter van der Mark, the secretary general of the European Smoking Tobacco Association (ESTA), which represents the European smoking tobacco industry, did want to discuss his organisation’s decisions with TobaccoIntelligence.
Van der Mark criticised the questionnaires as being merely a “tick-the-box” exercise, and said he did not understand why there were multiple questionnaires. “This already implies that the outcomes can be vastly dissimilar,” he said.
But in reality, the majority of items in the upcoming TPD are not going to be changed, according to what is seen when looking at the requirements of the TPD and what the industry has already had to implement since the TPD2, or Directive 2014/40/EU, was introduced.
ESTA has criticised the “unclear and untimely” measures of the TPD2, which it said have negatively impacted small and medium-sized companies, causing some to close and have their portfolios taken over by large multinationals, which then further distorted the market.
“We are still busy with implementing TPD number two in various areas, whilst we are already talking about TPD number three,” van der Mark said.
Overall, van der Mark doubts that the industry’s feedback from the public consultation will result in any meaningful changes to the EC’s measures.
Flavour ban ‘like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’
The consultation itself is complicated and difficult for most respondents to deal with unless they have some sort of support team to help. For example, the inclusion of a new section on ingredient regulation and track and trace in the consultation itself posed significant challenges and caused delays in compliance. Additionally, van der Mark noted that the questionnaires are difficult to respond to because of limited options for nuanced opinions.
He believes the existing directive was already overly ambitious, leading to complications during implementation. Setting more pragmatic objectives is necessary. But this does not appear to be happening.
The directive aimed to reduce smoking prevalence by 2% within five years and was successful overall, van der Mark believes, though significant regulatory issues remain. In particular ESTA is opposed to further restrictions on flavour ingredients and increases in regulations concerning packaging.
He said the idea that tobacco companies were using characterising flavours to enhance addictiveness and increase product appeal had insufficient evidence supporting it. But nonetheless it was a measure that had and continues to receive significant political attention.
The use of flavours below a level considered “characterising” – allegedly as a method for increasing appeal and addictiveness – remains a contentious issue. An Italian court is currently deciding whether traces of menthol below a level sufficient enough to impart a characterising flavour should be banned under current EU rules. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also contends that using traces of flavours is an ongoing tobacco tactic.
Outside that, van der Mark said that there was no need for flavour bans to apply across the board, as there are tobacco products where flavouring could still play a role.
“It’s like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut,” van der Mark said. For instance, he questioned why such a ban would apply to all products, including those not appealing to youth. Applying a flavour ban to pipe tobacco – a product mainly used by older consumers and one with a limited market share – is questionable, he said.
New packaging laws: helping consumers or lobbyists?
ESTA also raised concerns about proposed changes to packaging regulations in its answer to the consultation. It believes that plain packaging and larger health warning sizes will be difficult to implement due to limited space on packaging and logistical challenges, especially since the TPD2 requires that health warnings cover at least 65% of the front and back of cigarette packs.
Van der Mark also questioned the effectiveness of plain packaging and called for evidence of its success before implementation. The industry also seeks more harmonisation among European countries.
He noted that the industry wants to avoid spending significant sums of money on redesigning packaging and machinery if plain packaging is implemented.
Plain packaging remains a major industry lobbying point, and tobacco companies are working hard to oppose to any further measures in this area. Interestingly, currently the pulled Google result for “effectiveness plain packaging” is from the British American Tobacco (BAT) website.
However, despite industry claims that the effectiveness of plain packaging has not been proven (which brings up the question, Then why oppose it?), generally the science appears to be coalescing around support for it as a smoking-reduction measure – though with the caveat that it is still early days in terms of research and not every paper agrees.
– Sonia Romero TobaccoIntelligence contributing writer