The EU has been urged to do more to prevent children and young people from taking up smoking.
Parliament’s tobacco products directive rapporteur Linda McAvan told theparliament.com, “The biggest worry for me is that more young people smoke than adults in the European Union.
“We have to do something to tackle the recruitment of children and young people into smoking.”
The British MEP, who is a member of parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee, said that 28 per cent of European citizens’ smoke. According to the European commission, the figure for 15 to 24-year-olds is slightly higher, at 29 per cent.
Tobacco packaging is considered to be a crucial aspect of the directive because it is about how the industry sells its products, she said.
With some cigarette packages designed to resemble perfumes and others advertising chocolate flavoured tobacco products, McAvan said, “We know from the tobacco companies themselves that they are designed to attract young women.
“But we know its children and young girls who buy these, so we think this kind of packaging should go.”
McAvan wants to see picture warnings on the packaging of tobacco products, with images of the health effects of smoking clearly visible.
“We want packaging with big photographs, big warnings because that puts people off smoking,” she said.
She added, “The tobacco industry says it has no impact, but then why have they employed some 70 new lobbyists to lobby the European parliament?”
On the issue of e-cigarettes, McAvan said, “We’ve taken a lot of evidence about e-cigarettes and the evidence I’ve seen tells me that for people that smoke e-cigarettes can help in terms of harm reduction.
“So I don’t want to see e-cigarettes disappear from the market, I want them to be available for smokers. What I don’t want though, is to see young people start using e-cigarettes who have never smoked.”
The Socialist MEP said that schools in the UK have had to ban e-cigarettes to prevent children from bringing them in.
“We have no laws, we have no regulation of e-cigarettes, so what I want is a regulatory framework,” she said.
“I do think we need some regulation about the quality of e-cigarettes, about manufacturing processes to make sure they’re safe because they mainly come from China, and even the companies themselves know that there are problems with the way they’re manufactured.
“We need to make sure they’re available widely on the market so that they can compete with cigarettes.
“That’s why medicines regulation wouldn’t work in many countries, because in many countries you can only buy medicines at a pharmacy, you can’t buy them when you’re out on a Friday night.
“So that’s why I proposed a system of regulation which doesn’t go as far as making them medicines but nevertheless will stop them becoming gateway products for young people.”
The tobacco directive includes proposals for a pre-authorisation process for all new tobacco products on the EU market.
In explaining how this would be managed, McAvan said, “In the US they do have a pre-authorisation system for all new tobacco products, which is managed by the food and drug administration (FDA).
“We don’t have an FDA, but each country does have national regulators who regulate health products.
“It seems a little bit strange to me that we would allow tobacco companies to place new products on the market, and then we try to catch up and find out what was in them after.
“Tobacco products are harmful, they kill people and in my view governments should be able to see what the tobacco companies are putting on the market before they do it, and regulate them accordingly.”
McAvan also said the world health organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control was “really, really important”.
“It’s one of the first public health international laws and every single European country is signed up to it, plus the EU as a whole,” she added.
“We’ve got legal obligations to implement that law and that law asks us to bring in picture warnings on cigarettes, it asks us to tackle young people and smoking.
“So this is what this new law is doing, it’s helping us implement a legally binding law that we’ve all signed up to freely.”