Like Don Quixote on his donkey tilting at windmills the EU project lurches on. It defies belief that the EU continues to ignore subsidiarity, passing micro laws which nobody asks for and a majority disagree with.
The most recent exemplar is the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), voted on in Strasbourg this week.
If I can mark your card and emulate the great Sir Peter O’Sullevan, let me take you through the metaphorical runners on this one. The first horse into the paddock is the ghastly Labour MEP Linda McAvan, MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber and spokesperson on public health. She is the Special Rapporteur and silly mare who organised the legislation and chaired the committee.
She is a typical nanny state Labourite. Wanting to press all the buttons at the starting gate she enthusiastically embraced as much legislation as could fit into a nose bag. Also it appears Ms McAvan has a problem with companies making a profit, but that’s nothing new for Labour.
The Liberal runner comes in the shape of Rebecca Taylor, who embraced the TPD like a drowning person clinging to a lifejacket, albeit with the noble exception of legislating electronic cigarettes out of existence, which she rejected.
And finally, Anna Soubry, the Tory former Health Minister conveniently recently moved to the Ministry of Defence after her many debacles was the British minister steering it through the EU. More on her in a moment.
So off we go to the 3.30 at Strasbourg …. and here’s the result:
- Health warnings and graphic images will now rise from covering 35% of a packet to covering 65% of a packet – feel privileged that it was negotiated down from 75%
- Packs of ten cigarettes will be banned.
- Pouches of 12.5 and 25 grams will be banned but 20g and the existing 50g will be allowed.
- Menthol cigarettes will be banned but in 2022 rather than 2014 for the remaining legislation.
- There is some good news: “slim” cigarettes will not be banned and more hot air will be spent on whether to ban the words “mild, low tar and light” on packets.
- But the real victory is that the proposal to regulate electronic cigarettes by classing them as medicines was roundly defeated.
Never mind that people who smoke packs of ten often do so to cut down. In Ireland they banned the ten packs in 2007 and saw a rise in smoking. In 2007, 29% of the population smoked but by 2009 it had risen to 33% and has now stabilised.
Never mind this study which found that menthol smokers had around half the incidence of lung cancer than non menthol smokers.
Never mind that those who do smoke low tar and mild cigarettes do have a 44% reduction in lung cancer and were more likely to quit.
Never mind the sexist implication that slim cigarettes are marketed to women who are incapable of making their own decisions. Please note there is a massive difference between marketing and advertising. The assumption with marketing is that you have made up your mind to smoke but are undecided on the brand.
Never mind that if we were in America, the EU would be accused of blatant racism as African-Americans are the biggest consumers of menthol cigarettes.
The only sane voice in the debate is Paul Nuttall. Firstly he points out that the EU were berating McDonalds for selling supersize portions, yet the banning of ten packs will mean tobacco companies will be forced to sell their own ‘supersize portions’ and make ‘poor people, poorer’.
On banning menthol cigarettes, quite rightly he pointed out the black market will get a fresh impetus.
On electronic cigarettes, he pointed out the lunacy of treating them as medicinal products as they are the most successful way of quitting smoking. He finally ends by saying the TPD is “Ill thought out, counterproductive and contradictory.”
And finally, back to Ms. Soubry. On the 17th July 2013 she endured not so much of a car crash of a grilling, but a multiple pile up.
Ms. Soubry was reporting into the European Scrutiny Committee. She willfully and knowingly failed to report back to the House of Commons from January to June 2013, and by implication the people, on what she was up to. Her lack of grasp of detail was also obvious, and like an episode of Yes Minister she appeared to be the puppet of Andrew Black, the Department of Health’s Tobacco Programme Manager.
Her contempt for democracy was summed up by the Chairman Bill Cash: “The reason for our scrutiny process… is to ensure that no decision is taken in the Council of Ministers until that debate has taken place… What you did was effectively to prevent any such debate taking place at the time.”
The exiting political class have more than ill served us, especially on Europe. But when you can barely get a cigarette paper between their policies, it really is time for a new outlook.
David Atherton is and a freelance writer. He tweets at @DaveAtherton20