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The invisible hand of big tobacco? [902]

Matthias Groote, chairman of the European Parliament's environment committee, fears a revision of the tobacco products directive (TPD) will not be proposed before the end of the year as planned. “This important legislation has been postponed time and time again,” he said. “The European Parliament and European public will not tolerate further delays.”

There has been intense lobbying by the tobacco industry to stop Dalli from proposing to require all cigarette packs to have ‘plain packaging' with no branding and to require shops to hide cigarettes from public view. The fact that it was a tobacco company that made the allegation that brought down Dalli has provoked suspicions that the industry wanted to get Dalli out before he proposed these new rules.

“If you look at when this complaint was filed, it was around the time that Commissioner Dalli started to talk about a strong TPD,” said Monika Kosin?ska, secretary-general of the European Public Health Alliance. “I don't think they could have known this would lead to his resignation, but it's in their interest to delay the TPD.”

She added that the tobacco industry's reaction to the resignation showed they were eager to see Dalli go, not only because his replacement might be less inclined to propose further restrictions on tobacco products, but also because it could further delay the proposal. “It's less about who replaces him and more about the political will of Barroso and the current college [of commissioners] to get this out,” she said. “It shows you how much fear there is within the tobacco industry about a strong TPD.”

Swedish Match, the company that brought the allegation that a Maltese lobbyist was offering his connections with Dalli for hire, did not hide its antipathy to the Commission. It said the incident was: “The last in a long line of [disappointments] in how the Commission has handled the whole question of snus.”

Giovanni Kessler, the director-general of the EU's anti-fraud office, OLAF, said yesterday (17 October) that it had looked into the possibility that the allegation was a set-up. “Was it a trap?” he asked rhetorically. “What were the motivations for this allegation? We examined this issue and...we are certain that certain illicit requests were made for money in return for changing the position of the Commission.”

Call for delays

The tobacco industry has used the occasion of Dalli's resignation to call for the proposal on tobacco products to be delayed. UNITAB, the European tobacco growers association, released a statement saying the allegations raise “serious questions” about the “flawed process” that the Commission has used in developing the revision. “We call on the Commission to abandon the proposals developed by Mr Dalli and begin again with a fair and transparent TPD revision,” it said.

Some MEPs echoed the sentiment. “The revision of the tobacco products directive is now likely to be off the table for this legislative period,” said German Liberal MEP Holger Krahmer. “It is good that we now have more time to reflect on the meaning of further sales restrictions on tobacco products.”

But the SmokeFree Partnership campaign group called on the Commission to publish the tobacco proposals before the end of the year as planned, regardless of whether a new health commissioner has been appointed by then.

A Commission spokesperson said that although the directive would still be proposed as planned, it will not be put forward until a new health commissioner is in place.

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