The failure of two legal challenges against the EU’s new Tobacco Products Directive means that a swarm of new regulations will come into effect from May 20. The new laws have all the hallmarks of the kind of unaccountable decision-making and bureaucratic excess that the European Commission has made its own. Finding logic in the regulations is futile. The EU has simultaneously banned small packs of cigarettes while banning all but the smallest packs of rolling tobacco. Why? If packs of ten encourage young people to buy them, as the health zealots claim, why not make packs of rolling tobacco larger?
Despite containing no tobacco, e-cigarettes have somehow become caught up in the Tobacco Products Directive with a list of petty, pointless regulations which will only serve to inconvenience consumers and limit innovation. Bottles of e-cigarette fluid will be restricted to a measly ten millilitres and they will have to be sold with a leaflet explaining the alleged risks of vaping. Both measures will create a large amount of waste for no purpose. Needless to say, no such leaflet will be included in cigarette packs.
On and on it goes, with endless, senseless regulations on packaging and product design specified to the nearest milligram and millimetre. An upper limit for nicotine content has been set at a level well below what many smokers find satisfying, which can only lead to fewer smokers switching to a product that the Royal College of Physicians recently said is at least 95 per cent safer than smoking. And, despite the vast differences in risk profiles, the directive places the same restrictions on e-cigarette advertising as it does on tobacco advertising. Innovation in this dynamic sector is sure to be stifled by such draconian rules.
This is classic regulatory over-reach from the EU. Remarkably, none of it is explicitly in the name of health. The EU has no mandate to set health policy and so all of the new laws in the Tobacco Products Directive have to masquerade as market harmonisation measures. But where is the harmony? Sweden keeps its exemption from the EU’s ban on smokeless tobacco (‘snus’). Countries which ban the sale of e-cigarettes, such as Finland, will not be encouraged to lift their prohibitions. Menthol cigarettes will be banned across the EU despite no member state seriously contemplating a ban of its own. Every country must have graphic warnings on fag packs making up 65 per cent of the surface area, but if countries want to go the whole hog and introduce their own ‘standardised packs’ they are free to do so.
This is not harmonisation and nor is it evidence-based policy-making. It is Brussels throwing its weight around with a botched compromise of a directive that will achieve nothing. There is no good reason why British shops should not be able to sell cigarettes in packs of ten or e-cigarette fluid in 20-millilitre bottles. Why can’t they just leave us alone?