EUROPEAN retailers have joined forces to fight tougher tobacco laws which they say threaten half-a-million small businesses.
Retail associations from 11 countries met in Brussels to sign a declaration opposing EU Commission proposals for “plain” cigarette packaging, a ban on the display of any tobacco products in shops and restrictions on addictive ingredients in cigarettes.
The planned moves would tighten EU-wide controls which already stipulate maximum limits for nicotine and tar content of cigarettes, written health warnings on packets and a ban on terms such as ‘light’.
The proposed revision of the 10-year old Tobacco Products Directive would remove all logos, graphics and designs from cigarette packaging across Europe, with just the brand name written in small letters.
Other ideas include adding large medical photos of the health effects of smoking, and a series of new health warnings to increase the shock impact, particularly for young smokers and those trying to quit.
The changes follow a Commission “consultation” last year about further steps that could be taken to reduce the attraction of tobacco, the single largest cause of avoidable death in the EU, accounting for around 650,000 premature deaths every year.
But now tobacco retailers are pooling their efforts to hit back, insisting harsher measures will only hit small firms and will not have a major impact on cutting smoking.
“These measures will mean huge costs for retailers along with an explosion of the black market, presenting a threat to more than half a million small retail businesses in the EU,” said Giovanni Risso, chairman of the European Confederation of Tobacco Retailers.
They say existing legislation has already forced business closures, thanks to the rise in illegal smuggling of cheaper cigarettes.
They claim that standardised packaging would make products even easier to counterfeit, while banning the more addictive ingredients in tobacco would trigger an illicit market in stronger cigarettes.
“We fully support and want to contribute to the EU’s objectives of reducing smoking and eliminating youth smoking, but it’s hard to see how these measures could do that.
“All they will do is put us out of work and hand our businesses over to criminals who obey no laws,” Mr Risso said.
Brussels hopes to agree new plans with national authorities by the end of this year.
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