New evidence published by The Observer in the UK this week appears to vindicate claims made by Malta’s ousted European Commissioner John Dalli.
Mr Dalli argues that his efforts to introduce the new legislation, which stood to cost the powerful tobacco industry billions of euros, were, in a mysterious and stark departure from normal practice, hampered and delayed time and time again until he was ultimately forced out of the Commission.
Mr Dalli’s resignation came in the wake of a report by OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud agency, which presented a number of somewhat vague accusations against Mr Dalli and Silvio Zammit, who is said to have requested snus producer Swedish Match €60 million to have Mr Dalli’s upcoming legislation changed in favour of the tobacco industry, charges that Mr Dalli vehemently denies.
The controversial legislation, which was to put a number of restrictions on the design of cigarette packets and which included a number of other proposals to limit the uptake of smoking in Europe, was due to proceed to the next stage shortly after what he says was his dismissal from the Commission last October.
The tobacco industry is on the top of Mr Dalli’s list of suspects when it comes to what he called his “entrapment”, he said in an interview with this newspaper at the time – a position he maintains to this day.
At the time he had said the tobacco directive was in a “suspended state of animation”, and Mr Dalli had claimed that his forced resignation would have meant the directive would take a long time to see the light of day, if at all. And, so far, the prediction holds.
This week, The Observer published confidential documents that revealed the extent of lobbying undertaken by tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) and that the company had employed 161 people to combat the proposed tobacco products directive.
Last Thursday it emerged that the European Parliament’s crucial vote on the directive, tabled again by Mr Dalli’s replacement, Tonio Borg, had been postponed until 8 October, a significant victory for the tobacco lobby. The end result is that time will quickly expire for the directive to see the light of day since in January the EU Presidency goes from pro-regulation Lithuania to anti-regulation Greece.
“There is little time to get the directive passed before this parliament comes to an end and the whole process has to start again,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Ash, was quoted as saying.
“That would be good news for the tobacco industry in its endless search to wring profits out of new addicts, but terrible news for children and young people across Europe.”
“This is outrageous,” Florence Berteletti, the director of The Smoke Free Partnership organisation said in a statement this week. “Ever since John Dalli ceased to be Health Commissioner last year, we have repeatedly expressed concern over the delay tactics of the tobacco industry and what a delay of the directive would mean for public health in Europe. We suspect that tobacco industry interference is now once again at play – this time by overturning a longstanding commitment of the European Parliament to secure a swift resolution of this directive.”
Delaying the directive has been a key goal of the tobacco lobby, according to the report. Documents from the internal EU public affairs briefings, from 2011 and 2012, show that the tobacco giant was intent on derailing the directive.
In one slide dated 9 August 2012, PMI discusses whether its strategic objective is to “push” (ie remove elements of the directive) or to “delay” it. A company spreadsheet reveals that it used 161 employees and consultants in lobbying. It shows that in the year to June 2012, the lobbyists claimed almost GBP1.25m in expenses for their meetings with MEPs. The spreadsheet shows that by 22 June last year, 233 MEPs – 31 per cent of the total – had met PMI at least once. In a separate spreadsheet, several MEPs are listed as having been met four or five times. Almost half of the European People’s Party and European centre-right groups met with PMI’s lobbyists, the documents show.
There was also evidence that the company commissioned academic and economic studies to promote its claims.
Back in October 2012, Mr Dalli had told this newspaper, “Basically this (his expulsion from the Commission on charges he insists are false) has killed the tobacco directive, to the tobacco industry’s advantage. This is about much more than just snus; snus is only a small part of the bigger picture.”