This week the Australian Senate delayed a vote on standardised packaging for cigarettes after intense pressure from tobacco lobbyists. The EU, too, should be considering proposals on plain packaging but it's the same story; extreme pressure from the pro-tobacco lobby has meant the European Commission has delayed the proposals until April 2012 at the earliest.
This is not acceptable. There is a real appetite to start work on the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive, which regulates how cigarettes and other forms of tobacco can be packaged, and what can be put inside them. I've been working with a huge range of health and consumer groups, including the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK, to promote policies which will actually reduce the amount of tobacco we use in the
UK and across Europe. Tobacco is the biggest cause of preventable deaths globally, it kills one in ten people worldwide and half of all smokers will be killed by it. And the damage it causes costs EU countries 100 billion euro a year. We have to get on with changing our laws to help people quit and stop young people from smoking in the first place. That is why today I sent a letter to the President of the European Commission, co-signed by 21 NGOs and charities, major pharmaceutical companies and 27 other MEPs from different political parties all over Europe, to urge for the proposals to be brought forward.
Once MEPs start work I will be fighting to see standardised packaging for tobacco products. The tobacco industry themselves have admitted that the cigarette packet is the last possible place for them to advertise on, and there are some obvious examples of branding being used to make cigarettes look 'milder' or less harmful, or to specifically appeal to young people or women, such as the ultra-feminine Vogue brand. So called 'plain' packaging would not just be a white box, but instead green or brown coloured with a large pictorial health warning, and the brand name in a standard font. They would be no easier for counterfeiters to copy than a current packet.
I'll keep pushing the Commission so that MEPs can start this important work, and in the meantime I wish Australian Health Minister Nicola Roxon every success with her attempts to protect the health of Australian citizens.