* Law would require bigger warnings on packs
* Lobbying is "unprecedentedly intense"
* Ministers issue call for action
By Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS, Oct 4 European officials complained on
Friday that legislation regulating the sale of tobacco products
is being held up in the European Parliament because of intense
lobbying by cigarette manufacturers.
The EU Tobacco Products Directive calls for mandatory text
and picture health warnings covering 75 percent of the front and
back of cigarette packs and would ban the sale of specially
flavoured cigarettes such as menthol and cinnamon.
The proposed measures were agreed among EU member states in
June. The 750-member parliament will hold a vote on Oct. 8 to
decide whether to move forward with negotiations on the
proposals or allow time for further amendments.
"There is an unprecedentedly intense lobbying campaign from
the industry going on inside the European Parliament with the
express intention of trying to frustrate this legislation," a
senior Irish official said on Friday, briefing journalists on
condition of anonymity.
"This is completely on a scale way beyond lobbying that
normally goes on."
He said officials had been surprised to discover that
cigarette manufacturers and their lobbyists had knowledge of
precise elements of the law barely 24 hours after they were
agreed behind closed doors.
"The level of lobbying at the moment exceeds any campaign
that has gone on in the parliament in recent years," he said.
The aim of the legislation is to combat smoking among the
young and cut down on the estimated 700,000 EU citizens who die
of tobacco-related causes each year.
CALL BY MINISTERS
In an unusual move, 16 of the EU's health ministers issued a
joint statement on Friday urging the parliament to begin
negotiating with EU governments on the legislation as quickly as
possible so as to finalise the law by the end of the year.
"Ministers urged MEPs to take this opportunity to
significantly improve the health of millions of EU citizens by
working with the Council and the European Commission for the
early adoption of the Tobacco Products Directive," they said.
Parliament will hold a first vote on amendments to the
proposal on Tuesday as well as decide whether to begin
negotiating with governments. If it rejects negotiations so as
to allow more time for amendments, it would force further delays
and would mean the law is not approved for another year or more.
Among the amendments are calls to reduce the size of health
warnings to 50 percent from 75 percent and to allow menthol as a
Philip Morris and other manufacturers have been
widely criticised by officials, diplomats and some MEPs for the
extent and intensity of their lobbying against the legislation.
Internal Philip Morris documents leaked to the media and
seen by Reuters show that lobbyists have held over 250 meetings
with members of parliament to discuss the legislation,
especially with conservatives.
In a statement last month responding to criticism, Philip
Morris said it was merely trying to express its views on the
legislative proposals, and pointed out that it employed 12,500
people in the EU and had invested hundreds of millions of euros.
"The argument that we should remain silent in the face of a
proposal that directly concerns us, and on which we have facts
and improvement ideas to share, is illogical," said Drago
Azinovic, the president of the company for the EU region.
"We have and will continue to express our views proactively
and transparently. As the EU itself says, this kind of
interaction is 'constant, legitimate and necessary for the
quality of democracy'."