A landmark political agreement was today reached by Ministers at the Health Council in Luxembourg, bringing the EU a step closer to revamping rules on how tobacco products are produced, packaged and presented in Member States and stepping up health protection for EU citizens.
The Council, chaired by Ireland’s Minister for Health, Dr. James Reilly TD, today agreed on a range of measures that will pave the way to reducing the number of people taking up smoking in the EU. The agreement, coming just six months after the original Proposal was published by the Commission, includes new rules on how tobacco products should be labelled, packaged and manufactured. It also targets product ‘attractiveness’, with young people firmly in mind.
The agreement will enable the incoming Lithuanian Presidency to open up final negotiations on the Tobacco Products Directive with the European Parliament.
Minister Reilly warmly welcomed the outcome, saying it was ‘a remarkable achievement for the Irish Presidency, which set the ambitious target of reaching Council agreement on this important file in the space of six months. The fact that this has happened represents a huge step forward in the fight against tobacco use, as well as a victory for public health against those unwilling to acknowledge the devastating consequences of tobacco addiction in our society.’
He added ‘700,000 people die every year from tobacco-related diseases in the EU. The health and economic burden that this is placing on us is enormous. Given that the that the large majority of smokers start before the age of 18, the measures agreed today are of vital importance for the future of European public health.’
The text agreed by the Council Ministers differs in some respects from the Commission’s original proposal, but maintains the key objectives of setting in place more harmonised rules on packaging and labelling across the EU whilst tackling product ‘attractiveness’.
Ministers agreed on:
- Mandatory combined (picture and text) health warnings covering 65% of all cigarette and roll-your-own tobacco packs;
- Minimum packet dimensions to ensure greater visibility of health warnings and rule out the possibility of ‘lipstick’-style packs popular amongst young people;
- A ban on tobacco products with a ‘characterising flavour’ other than tobacco, like fruit or menthol, seen to facilitate smoking uptake by masking the tobacco flavour;
- Provisions for the setting up of a new EU-wide tracking and tracing system to combat illicit trade;
- Stricter rules for nicotine-containing products which will require those over a certain level of nicotine to be authorised as pharmaceuticals.
Reaching a Council agreement on the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive had been the main priority of the Irish Presidency in the field of Public Health, and is significant, coming only six months after the controversial Proposal was first published by the Commission in December 2012.
Since then the Irish Presidency has prioritised work on the file and has set about building consensus amongst Member States in a bid to ensure a common position could be reached at the Health Council in June.
Minister Reilly wished his Lithuanian counterpart, Minister for Health Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, the very best of luck in finalising work on this file, and assured him of Ireland’s continued support as Lithuania prepares to take over from Ireland at the beginning of July.
Ministers at the Council also heard progress reports from the Irish Presidency on two of its other priority files: Clinical Trials Proposal – which aims to boost clinical research on medicines in the EU by simplifying and harmonising the rules on approving clinical trials, while ensuring protection of subjects – and Medical Devices Proposals – which aim to ensure a safer, more effective regulatory framework in Europe which promotes innovation in the medical devices sector. The Presidency reported very good progress on both; a first read-through of the Clinical Trials Proposal has been completed at Working Group level and substantial progress has been made on the important but complex Medical Devices Proposals.
AOB points included information from the Presidency on the recently agreed Serious Cross-Border Threats to Health file, which aims to better prepare and protect EU citizens against possible future pandemics. The Commission updated Ministers on developments in relation to the Novel Coronavirus, and provided information on the transposition of the Directive on the Application of Patients' Rights in Cross-Border Healthcare. The work programme of the incoming Lithuanian Presidency in the field of Public Health was also presented.