Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report





COM(02) 303

Draft Council Recommendation on the prevention of smoking and on initiatives to improve tobacco control.

Legal base:

Article 152(4); co-decision; qualified majority voting


Document originated:

17 June 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

27 June 2002



Basis of consideration:

EM of 4 July 2002

Previous Committee Report:


To be discussed in Council:

See paragraph 20.7 below

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

Cleared, but relevant to any future debate on smoking and tobacco



    1. Because of the health risks to both smokers and non-smokers from tobacco, the Community has taken a number of measures since 1987 to reduce consumption levels, covering such areas as a ban on advertising and sponsorship, labelling (including the provision of health warnings, and constraints on misleading descriptors), and ceilings on the tar content of cigarettes. Steps have also been taken from time to time to review the actions taken, and to consider guidelines for future action. In particular, on 18 November 1999, the Council invited the Commission to contribute to the development of an overall strategy to combat tobacco consumption.
    2. The current document

    3. The Commission has accordingly set out in this draft Recommendation a number of the measures previously identified by the Council. They also include some contained in an earlier Directive[43] relating to advertising and sponsorship which was annulled by the European Court of Justice[44], and which hence could not be included in the proposed revised Directive[45] brought forward by the Commission in May 2001, which we currently still have under scrutiny.
    4. The proposed Recommendation would deal with four main areas, as follows:

    • Availability of tobacco to young people

The Commission proposes that this should be reduced by requiring vendors to establish that purchasers are over the legal age limit; by removing tobacco products from self-service displays; by requiring vending machines to be placed in locations inaccessible to young people by restricting distance sales (such as those over the internet) to sites protected by adult verification; and by banning the sale of cigarettes in packets of fewer than 20.

    • Tobacco advertising

Legislation or voluntary agreements would be introduced to prevent young people from being exposed to any form of such advertising, particularly in cinemas or on billboards and posters, and to prohibit the use of promotional items (such as lighters or free tobacco samples) and "brand stretching" (the use of a tobacco brand name on a non-tobacco product).

    • Provision of information by the tobacco industry

The industry would be required, by legislation or other methods, to provide information to Member States on expenditure on advertising, marketing, sponsorship and promotion campaigns.

    • Exposure through passive smoking

Legislation, voluntary agreements or other measures would be introduced to protect people from exposure through passive smoking, particularly in workplaces, on public transport or in enclosed public spaces. Particular attention would be paid to protecting children, pregnant women, and people with respiratory diseases.

The Government's view

    1. In her Explanatory Memorandum of 4 July 2002, the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State at the Department of Health (Ms Hazel Blears) says that the Government broadly supports the principles of the proposal, and that the four areas highlighted are all ones to which it gives high priority, with most of the provisions outlined in the Recommendation already being in place in the UK (or, in the case of advertising, currently being introduced). She also says that many of those which are not yet part of UK law are laid down in a draft WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and are likely to become international law in the near future. She therefore describes the proposal as "relatively uncontroversial".
    2. On its specific aspects, she says:

    • that the UK can accept the broad thrust of the proposal on restricting access by young people (which is an important element of the Government's own strategy), but would wish to see some exemptions, for example allowing specialist tobacconists and duty- free shops to use self-service display units;

    • that the Tobacco Bill will provide a comprehensive ban on advertising, though the UK would still wish to permit some very limited, targeted exemptions, such as advertising inside a specialist tobacco shop;

    • that, although the UK supports measures to combat the efforts of the tobacco industry to encourage people to smoke, it hopes that the WHO Convention will introduce a comprehensive international ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, which would largely remove the need to disclose expenditure. Until then, however, any disclosure requirements would have to be in line with laws on confidentiality;

    • that the UK fully supports the text of the proposal on passive smoking, and in particular the acknowledgement of the contribution which may be made by voluntary agreements or at non-governmental level.

    1. The Minister also points out that there is no requirement on the UK to implement any of the provisions in the proposal, and that the financial impact will thus depend upon those elements which it does decide to implement. However, she suggests that the main impact would result from the ban on sales of packets with less than 20 cigarettes, in that about 25% of machines currently in use would need to be upgraded, at a cost of between 10 million and 25 million. The other main impact would arise from the removal of self-service sales. Although these are already covered by a voluntary agreement, there would be costs for individual businesses if the exemption which applies to specialist tobacconists and duty-free shops were removed.
    2. On the timetable, the Minister says that the proposal was submitted to the Health Council on 26 June 2002, and that discussions at official level are due to start shortly. She adds that the Danish Government has indicated that it wishes to make progress during its Presidency.
    3. Conclusion

    4. We have noted that this proposal brings forward in a non-binding Recommendation a number of the measures to combat smoking previously contained in Community legislation, with the main aim being to reduce consumption by young people. We also note that many of the Recommendations are in line with current UK practice, although costs would arise for vending machine operators if cigarettes could not in future be sold in packs of less than twenty. Having said that, both the underlying aims of the proposal and the means by which these are to be achieved appear to be uncontroversial. We are therefore clearing the document, though it would be relevant to any further debate on measures relating to smoking and tobacco.


43   Council Directive 98/43/EC, OJ No. L.213, 30.7.98, p.9. Back

44   Case C-376/98, Germany v. European Parliament and Council. Back

45   (22514) 10184/01; see HC 152-iv (2001-02), paragraph 2 (7 November 2001) and HC 152-xxvi (2001-02), paragraph 3 (24 April 2002). Back

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