The Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) of the European Union (EU) regulates the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products in the Member states of the EU. The current Directive dates from 2001. In 2010 the EU held a public consultation on possible revisions to the TPD. This in turn led to proposed revisions to the TPD which, if introduced, will affect millions of consumers across Europe, including the United Kingdom.

1. Ingredients
Proposal: Cigarettes, roll-your-own and smokeless tobacco products that have a characterising flavour, such as menthol cigarettes and smokeless tobacco with liquorice taste, will be prohibited.

Our response: There is no reliable evidence that the use of “characterising flavours” encourages people to start or continue smoking. Tobacco is legal and adults should be entitled to consume a range of tobacco products, as long as the health risks are made clear to them in a fair and reasonable way.

Menthol cigarettes (for example) have been available for decades. It is unfair on consumers who have purchased and enjoyed the product for many years to remove it from the market.

Some anti-tobacco campaigners say that menthol flavoured cigarettes are targeted at women and should be prohibited for that reason alone. Women are no more (or less) susceptible to products with “characterising flavours” than men and it is offensive in this day and age to hear such arguments.

2. Labelling and packaging
Proposal: Health warnings on cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco products will be larger and more prominent. They will also contain mandatory pictures on both sides of packages.

Our response: We reject mandatory pictorial health warnings on tobacco products across all member states. We dispute the suggestion that the bigger and more graphic the health warning the more effective it is. There is no good evidence for this. Graphic health warnings introduced in the United Kingdom, for example, had no discernible impact on smoking rates. After some initial shock, consumers quickly get used to the images and thereafter hardly notice them.

Another problem with graphic images is one of proportionality. Some of the warnings portray images of seriously rotten teeth or oral cancer, for example, that few people have ever encountered in real life. In our view health warnings are far less effective if they portray worst case scenarios because consumers can’t or don’t identify with them.

3. Impact on young people
The Citizens’ Summary of the revisions to the TPD says that “Young people will be discouraged from taking up smoking, as there will be stricter rules on features that increase the attractiveness of tobacco products”.

We dispute this. It is said that forbidden fruit is the sweetest and it is widely acknowledged that one of the primary reasons that teenagers take illegal drugs (for example) is precisely because they are forbidden. The UK charity DrugScope reports that natural rebellion is indeed one of the reasons that teenagers experiment with drugs:

Any action that has the potential to make tobacco more attractive to young people should be introduced only if governments are certain that the policy will significantly reduce youth smoking rates.

4. Impact on adult consumers
Governments do not spend enough time considering the impact of regulations on adult consumers, especially the consumer who chooses to consume tobacco products and has no wish to quit.

We believe the proposed revisions to the Tobacco Products Directive have less to do with reducing youth smoking rates – which is an honourable goal and one we would support if the policies were reasonable and proportionate – but are part of a wider campaign to “denormalise” smoking in general rather than youth smoking in particular.

Denormalisation however is about shaming adult consumers into changing their behaviour. It is designed to stigmatise smokers, placing them apart from the rest of society until they learn to behave in a manner approved by politicians, public health campaigners, and unelected bureaucrats in Brussels and elsewhere. This is unacceptable in a free society.

5. Strong public opposition to re TPD
According to the ‘Report on the public consultation on the possible revision of the Tobacco Products Directive’ published in July 2011, the number of "citizen respondents" was 82,117, or 96% of the overall total. The report noted that:

  • a significant majority of (citizen) respondents were against extending the scope of the Directive (ie further regulations)
  • a vast majority of (citizen) respondents ... were in favour of lifting the ban on snus
  • a significant majority of (citizen) respondents disagreed with the regulation of ingredients at the EU level
  • a significant majority of (citizen) respondents opposed limiting access to tobacco products.

Unfortunately unelected bureaucrats appear to have ignored the views of citizen respondents when publishing the recommended revisions to the Tobacco Products Directive.

We therefore urge consumers to use this opportunity to advise the European Union that it must take greater account of the overwhelming public opposition to the revised TPD.

6. Summary
For decades smoking has been portrayed as a legal but potentially hazardous activity that only adults should engage in. For years it has been systematically de-glamourised. A combination of education and public information campaigns has persuaded most children that they should not even start smoking. Some of the proposals in the revised TPD could, ironically, undo some of that work.

We do not want children to smoke tobacco. We accept that the consumption of tobacco is an activity for informed adults only and we therefore support all reasonable regulations and initiatives that prevent or discourage children from purchasing and consuming tobacco.

We do not believe that the proposed revisions to the Tobacco Products Directive we have highlighted are reasonable or will have a significant impact on either youth or adult smoking rates. Worse, we believe that some of the proposed revisions may be counter-productive.

We consider the revisions to be motivated not by a desire to tackle youth smoking but to stigmatise adult smokers and 'denormalise' their habit so that adult smokers are effectively shamed into quitting.

Some of the revisions to the Tobacco Products Directive are fundamentally illiberal and potentially counter-productive. We urge the European Union to think again and engage with ALL stakeholders, including consumers, manufacturers and retailers, to develop reasonable policies that recognise both the health risks and the rights of adults to purchase and consume a legal product without harassment or undue government intervention.