Confidential documents have revealed the formidable lobbying operation waged by a tobacco giant seeking to undermine efforts to make cigarettes less attractive to children and women, and force packs to carry larger health warnings.

The documents obtained by the Observer show how Philip Morris International (PMI) employed 161 people to combat a proposed tobacco products directive (TPD), a major piece of European Union legislation that health campaigners say would save lives.

Under proposals by the commission’s ENVI public health committee, which had been due to be voted on this week in the European parliament, cigarette companies would be forced to include large pictorial health warnings on tobacco products covering 75% of the front and back of packs. There would also be a ban on all flavoured tobacco products such as menthol, vanilla and strawberry and on slim cigarettes and slim cigarette packs. These are seen as particularly attractive to younger smokers and to women, say health experts. The directive could also lead to e cigarettes being regulated under pharmaceutical legislation and sold like medicines, something some new entrants in the market oppose.

On Thursday it emerged that the crucial vote had been postponed by MEPs until 8 October, a significant victory for the tobacco lobby. As a result, time is running out to introduce the directive before January when the presidency passes from Lithuania, which is pro regulation, to Greece, which is opposed to tobacco control.

“There is little time to get the directive passed before this parliament comes to an end and the whole process has to start again,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Ash.

“That would be good news for the tobacco industry in its endless search to wring profits out of new addicts, but terrible news for children and young people across Europe.”

Delaying the directive has been a key goal of the tobacco lobby. Internal PMI EU public affairs briefings from 2011 and 2012 marked “private and confidential. For internal discussion and illustration purposes only” show that the tobacco giant, which now employs David Cameron’s election strategist Lynton Crosby as a consultant, was intent on derailing the directive.

In one slide dated 9 August 2012, PMI discusses whether its strategic objective is to “push” (ie remove elements of the directive) or to “delay” it. A company spreadsheet reveals that it used 161 employees and consultants in lobbying. It shows that in the year to June 2012, the lobbyists claimed almost 1.25m in expenses for their meetings with MEPs. The spreadsheet shows that by 22 June last year, 233 MEPs 31% of the total had been met by PMI at least once. In a separate spreadsheet, several MEPs are listed as having been met four or five times. Almost half of the European People’s Party and European centre right groups met with PMI’s lobbyists, the documents show.

The internal slides also show how PMI targeted farmers’ organisations, retail bodies and trade and business associations to reach high level decision makers in the European parliament and the European Commission.

There is also evidence that the company commissioned academic and economic studies to promote its claims.

One slide showed PMI’s intention to generate avis n gatifs (negative opinions) about proposals put forward by the EC’s Sanco directorate the body charged with ensuring health and consumer protection.

Another slide explained that it was PMI’s objective to ensure “that menthol be excluded from characterising flavours ban in TPD”. PMI said it would not comment on the confidential documents leaked to the Observer. However, in a statement it said it believed the directive was flawed. “It is up to the EU to set the timeline for considering this legislation, and it is our hope that these flaws will be addressed and that the EU implements a regulatory framework that is fair, science based and makes sense in light of the EU’s priorities, without imposing unnecessary burden on the economy,” PMI said.

Separately, emails released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Department of Health reveal that concerns about the directive were shared by other tobacco firms.

Earlier this year the department feared that Imperial Tobacco had obtained protected information from the European Council working group, which was helping draw up the directive.

The matter raised concerns in Whitehall that the tobacco lobby was in receipt of market sensitive information, raising questions about the relationship between Brussels and lobbyists.

Imperial wrote to the department to say it was alarmed to learn that in April the government had spoken in favour of plain packaging for cigarettes during a European Council working group meeting and demanded confirmation from the department.

When asked to reveal the source of its information, Imperial declined to tell the department.

The department was forced to write to Imperial explaining that the council’s reports “are subject to principles of professional secrecy”.

Eu goes menthol – telegraph blogs

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Bruno Waterfield has been the Brussels correspondent for the Telegraph since 2007. He has been reporting on politics and European affairs for over 13 years, first from Westminster and then from Brussels since January 2003. EU goes menthol

By Bruno Waterfield Last updated July 2nd, 2013

Comment on this Comment on this article

By seeking to ban menthol cigarettes the European Union is making a virtue of discrimination and is enshrining inequality before the law.

Tonio Borg, the EU health commisisoner, proposes a “menthol” tobacco products directive
(photo European Commission)

The ban is one element of a whole package of bad legislation tabled by the European Commission last December in the form of the Tobacco Products Directive here s a flavour.

Meeting 10 days ago, EU health ministers, including Britain’s Jeremy Hunt, agreed with the commission to legislate a ban on the use of cigarettes and roll your own tobacco with characterising flavours such as fruit flavours, chocolate or menthol .

This is to make sure that tobacco products taste and smell like tobacco products, the ministers agreed.

Here there is a prejudice (quite an absurd one) that a smoker might not realise that she was smoking tobacco if she was puffing away on a menthol cig, with the assumption that young people are particularly stupid in this regard.

The staff document, accompanying the directive last December, makes this prejudice explicit. It expresses the mistaken belief that children are drawn to experiment with smoking because they think cigarettes are a form of candy rather than understanding that tobacco’s appeal is a rebel and adult cachet. There are already plenty of sensible laws prohibiting tobacco sales to children

The use of ingredients for aromatic purposes also raises the issue that they may make tobacco products more attractive to young people and children in particular. Fowles et al., in a study of the chemical factors influencing the addictiveness and attractiveness of cigarettes in New Zealand, examined the use of flavourings such as fruit extracts and sweeteners in cigarettes and argue that since children are well known to seek out sweet tasting foods it is not unreasonable to assume that any added sweetness in tobacco smoke would be received favourably by the child experimenting with smoking , the document argues.

Underlining the prejudice against menthol and explicitly discriminating against young people , the legislation goes on to exempt pipe tobacco, which is also given characterising flavours , because it is used by older consumers . Seriously. This is an explicitly stated goal for the law.

The proposal exempts tobacco products other than cigarettes, roll your own tobacco and smokeless tobacco products, i.e. cigars, cigarillos and pipe tobacco from some provisions such as the prohibition of products with characterising flavours. This exemption is justified considering that these products are mainly consumed by older consumers, while the focus of this proposal is to regulate tobacco products in such a way as they do not encourage young people to start using tobacco. The exemption shall be removed if there is a substantial change of circumstances (in terms of sales volume or prevalence level among young people), says the directive.

If cigarettes are to be banned (and I don’t think they should be) then prohibition should be for everyone, young and old alike. Should freedom, in this case to smoke a menthol cigarette, be restricted for everyone because of (prejudiced) assumptions about what “young people” might do with it? Isn’t it grossly patronising to assume “young people” are so infantile that they are in special need of protection by EU officialdom?

In this case, the full weight of coercive law will be used to ban a product solely because it might be appealing to young people. A similar product will be exempted because in the prejudiced world view of EU officialdom only old people use it. That exemption will be removed if young people take up the pipe. This is open discrimination.

Public health law, and the coercive apparatus of the state, will be used to modify the behaviour of the young but not the old. This is law that openly has discrimination as its goal and that enshrines inequality as a legislative good or principle.

This is bad law. Bonkers menthol.

Tags bans, EU, menthol ban, nannying, scaremongering, smoking

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