Home > Joint Committee on Health and Children debate. Scrutiny of EU legislative proposals [Manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco].

[Oireachtas] Joint Committee on Health and Children debate. Scrutiny of EU legislative proposals [Manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco]. (21 Feb 2013)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/joint_...

Chairman: We are about to commence our consideration of COM (2012) 788, a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the member states concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products. The current tobacco products directive, Directive 2001/37/EC, dates from 2001. Since then, significant scientific, market and international developments have taken place. For example, new evidence on flavourings used in tobacco products and effectiveness of health warnings has become available. Novel products such as electronic cigarettes have entered the market and recent marketing strategies involve the use of attractive packaging and flavours. The main objective of the revision is to improve the functioning of the internal market while ensuring a high level of public health. In particular, the proposal aims to update already harmonised areas to overcome member states' obstacles to bring their national legislation into line with new market and scientific and international developments, address product-related measures not yet covered by the previous tobacco products directive, and ensure that the provisions of the directive are not circumvented by placing on the market products not compliant with the tobacco products directive.

Given the complex nature of this directive, we as a committee agreed to an oral briefing from the Department of Health. In this regard, I welcome Mr. Chris Fitzgerald, principal officer at the Department of Health and Children, and Ms Dilly O'Brien, assistant principal at the Department, to the meeting this morning. I draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in regard to a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite Mr. Fitzgerald to make his opening remarks. 

Mr. Chris FitzgeraldTobacco consumption is the largest avoidable health threat in the EU. There are approximately 700,000 deaths from tobacco-related illness in the EU every year. In Ireland, approximately 5,500 people die every year from tobacco-related illness. A Eurobarometer survey shows that 28% of the EU population smoke, which includes 29% of young Europeans aged between 15 and 24. The overall prevalence rates in Ireland are more or less in line with European rates, at about 29%. However, the percentage of younger people who smoke is increasing, which is a cause of some concern.
I will provide some perspective in terms of cost to put the matter into context. The cost of treatment for tobacco-related illness, plus an estimate for lost productivity in the EU, is in the region of €33 billion annually, which equates to about 3% of total health spending across Europe. There are further figures available relating to an estimate of the cost of premature mortality. If one takes the figure based on monetising of lost years, it could be in the region of €500 billion in the EU. The cost to the EU is enormous and the cost to Ireland is, obviously, of the same proportion. It is also worth saying in respect of the figures I have just quoted that more than 80% of all lung cancer deaths are directly related to tobacco consumption. Clearly, if one is to address and ultimately eliminate tobacco consumption, one would go a long distance in terms of addressing and eliminating lung cancers. It is a very important issue for Europe and Ireland.
Last December, the European Commission published a proposal for a new EU product directive. As the Chairman stated, this seeks to update the existing tobacco product directive which was introduced in 2001 and is now over ten years old. The proposal concerns the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products in the EU. The overall objective for the revised directive is to improve the functioning of the internal market through greater harmonisation of existing measures. The basis for this is Article 114 of the treaty, which is a market provision. Article 114 does provide that a high level of health protection must be taken and this was taken as a basis when choosing between different policy options identified in the review of the directive. It is expected, therefore, that the implementation of the directive's provisions will contribute to a reduction in tobacco consumption. In its opening comments on this, the Commission estimated that it expects a reduction in consumption volume of about 2% as a result of this measure. Specifically, the draft directive seeks to put in place measures to make tobacco products and smoking less attractive to young people, with an overall effect of trying to address initiation rates. It is worth making the point that 70% of smokers across Europe started when they were under 18 and 94% of all smokers start when they are under 25. The focus of this particular piece of legislation is addressing initiation rates by making tobacco products less attractive through their marketing and presentation to young people.
As the committee is aware, Ireland has been a world leader in tobacco control initiatives through the years, most recently through the introduction of the smoking ban in 2004. The introduction of many successful tobacco control measures in Ireland has been facilitated by parallel developments in the EU. It is important that our policy and legislative framework continues to develop within the context of European activity.
The Commission has expressed the hope that the proposal will be adopted in 2014. Progressing this proposal has been identified as a key priority of the Irish Presidency. The Commission presented the proposal and the impact assessment to the first meeting of the working party on public health on 7 January, which was the first available working day. The working party is, obviously, chaired by Ireland and has met three times on this proposal. Approximately ten further meetings are scheduled between now and the middle of June. It is important to make the point that this is a Commission initiative but it falls to be progressed during the Irish Presidency.....

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