The EU’s revised Tobacco Products Directive – which was set to place substantial new restrictions on tobacco companies’ promotion of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, including banning “e-cigarettes” – is dangerously close to stalling, and “further delay will raise serious questions about whose interest the EU Commission is promoting”, according to the authors of a Comment, published in The Lancet.
A Lancet News podcast special report also looks at these issues, including an interview with John Dalli, who recently resigned his post of EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy.
Dalli’s controversial resignation, as a result of allegations of financial impropriety involving tobacco companies, has led to the revised Tobacco Directive being put on hold, despite the fact that the text has been cleared, administratively and legally, to progress to the next stage of implementation.
Just two days after Mr Dalli’s resignation, the offices of anti-tobacco campaigners in Brussels appear to have been subject to a sophisticated burglary, in which laptops and documents were stolen, but other valuables left untouched.
According to Professor Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and one of the authors of the Comment, these events have “set alarm bells ringing.”
“While the truth about these events will emerge eventually, it may be too late for the revised Tobacco Products Directive. Yet there is no reason why this should be so. The only beneficiaries of delay are the tobacco companies,” says Professor McKee.
Comment co-author Paul Belcher, Senior EU Government Affairs Advisor at the Royal College of Physicians in London, adds, “The current situation is undermining both citizens’ confidence in EU decision making as well as public health efforts to combat the scourge of tobacco.”
In an interview with The Lancet News podcast, former Commissioner Dalli describes the circumstances of his resignation: “I was called to a meeting for which I had no agenda, then I was confronted immediately…‘listen, we have this report, [containing] these allegations, and you have to go. You can resign, or I can fire you.’… I resisted the question of resignation. I said, first of all, I don’t know exactly what the basis of this message is. Secondly, I did not do anything wrong…I asked for some time to consult lawyers…I asked for 24 hours, also to inform my family, and I was given thirty minutes.”
When asked about the safeguards that are in place to prevent any weakening of the Directive now that progress has stalled, Mr Dalli told The Lancet News podcast that “The safeguard was me.”
Monika Kosinska, Secretary General of the European Public Health Alliance, one of the organisations whose offices were burgled in Brussels, and a co-author of The Lancet Comment, also spoke to The Lancet News podcast, describing the delays to the revised Tobacco Products Directive as “paralysing”, and speculating that “there’s no reason to immediately think that everyone in the commission is going to be behind the Tobacco Products Directive.”