European union continues negotiations on tobacco control
The Spanish Presidency of the Council of Ministers and the European Commission jointly hosted a meeting earlier this month to discuss the current negotiations on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The WHO Convention was launched in 1999. The fourth round of negotiations is to be held in Geneva in March and ratification is scheduled for 2003. The day was also an opportunity for the European Commission to consult non-governmental organisation (NGO) members of its newly established European Health Forum.
An important area of debate is tobacco advertising. The European Union's first directive on tobacco advertising and sponsorship was annulled last October by the European Court of Justice after a successful challenge by the tobacco industry. A new directive is now in progress through the European Union. Most EU countries would support a ban on tobacco advertising. The EU hopes to be able to present a united position at the Convention negotiation when the new directive is agreed.
Another concern for the EU is tobacco smuggling. In 1999, 5Â·7 billion cigarettes were seized by customs in EU member states. The EU anti-fraud office described a case successfully prosecuted recently in the Spanish courts where eight lorry loads of cigarettes, originally manufactured in the USA, were legally exported via Belgium to Kosovo, but then falsely re-imported to Greece and smuggled by ship to Spain. The movement avoided â‚¬ 22 million of import duty. It is estimated that, worldwide, one third of all exported cigarettes escape tax. The EU anti-fraud office would support the WHO Convention requiring better traceability of tobacco products to their country of destination.
A contentious issue is the â‚¬ 1 billion subsidy for tobacco farmers, mainly in Greece and Italy, that is paid under the EU common agricultural policy. The European Commission last year accepted the case for reducing this subsidy and other ways to maintain the economy and environment of these rural farming communities are being found.
A notable feature of the European Commission's Health and Safety Directorate work on the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control has been coordination with other directorates within the Commission. This 'joined-up government' is innovative and will be important for the Convention's progress. In time, however, the European Union will also have to face greater regulation for the tobacco industry itself within its member states. For smoking to fall significantly, in Europe and worldwide, less tobacco needs to be imported, and fewer cigarettes made and sold. This bigger goal is the future challenge for European collaboration.