We dream of a day in the not-too-distant future when the death and disease caused by tobacco is a thing of the past.

And it’s easy to see why: smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in Europe, accounting for 16 per cent of all adult deaths. Tobacco-related diseases, including cancer, affect around 13 million people worldwide.

This week, we came one giant step closer to realising our dream, thanks to a landmark vote by the European Parliament in Strasbourg that made public health history.

Their overwhelming support for a new law ushering in tough minimum standards on tobacco will mean children and young people are better protected from tobacco harm than ever before.

And that’s great news for all of us.

What this means to you and I

The new law, called the Tobacco Products Directive, means EU countries will need to meet the following conditions:

  • Compulsory picture health warnings that cover 65 per cent of the upper part of each pack on both sides. Evidence shows that health warnings hammer home the dangers of smoking to young people, and we’re glad the directive reflects this evidence.
  • Banning descriptions of tobacco flavours like ‘fruit’ and ‘vanilla’, which we know appeal to young people.
  • Strong tracking and tracing provisions to stem illegal trade, which will help in the fight against tobacco smuggling.
  • New rules for e-cigarettes. Manufacturers can either apply for them to be regulated as medicinal products, if they claim that they help people quit, or be subject to further regulation as consumer products under the directive.

Public health trumps tobacco industry tactics

We’ve followed the Tobacco Products Directive closely, working with other organisations like the Smoke Free Partnership and European Public Health Alliance, since it was first mooted back in 2012. But we weren’t alone.

The tobacco industry worked hard to subvert the draft law every step of the way, right up to the 11th hour, and we’re pleased and proud of the UK officials based in Brussels who worked equally hard to safeguard public health.

A special mention goes to Linda McAvan MEP who steered the draft law through the European Parliament. Linda has been nominated MEP of the year – a reflection of her work on TPD – and we will be rooting for her on 18 March when the results are announced.

A time for celebration….but the fight isn’t over

The UK now has two years to bring national law into line with the directive.

Of course, governments can choose to go further: we’re pleased to see the UK and Ireland considering complete standardised packaging, not just the 65 per cent minimum obligation. This would set a shining example to Europe on tobacco control. And that’s something we could all be proud of.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on how the new law is introduced both here and abroad. We have concerns about e-cigarette regulation, and we want to make sure that the flexibility offered by the directive maximises the benefits and minimises the risks.

Catherine Castledine, EU Public Affairs Manager

Further information