Scrutiny of EU Legislative Proposals

We are about to commence our consideration of COM (2012) 788, a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the member states concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products. The current tobacco products directive, Directive 2001/37/EC, dates from 2001. Since then, significant scientific, market and international developments have taken place. For example, new evidence on flavourings used in tobacco products and effectiveness of health warnings has become available. Novel products such as electronic cigarettes have entered the market and recent marketing strategies involve the use of attractive packaging and flavours. The main objective of the revision is to improve the functioning of the internal market while ensuring a high level of public health. In particular, the proposal aims to update already harmonised areas to overcome member states' obstacles to bring their national legislation into line with new market and scientific and international developments, address product-related measures not yet covered by the previous tobacco products directive, and ensure that the provisions of the directive are not circumvented by placing on the market products not compliant with the tobacco products directive.

Given the complex nature of this directive, we as a committee agreed to an oral briefing from the Department of Health. In this regard, I welcome Mr. Chris Fitzgerald, principal officer at the Department of Health and Children, and Ms Dilly O'Brien, assistant principal at the Department, to the meeting this morning. I draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in regard to a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite Mr. Fitzgerald to make his opening remarks.

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

Tobacco consumption is the largest avoidable health threat in the EU. There are approximately 700,000 deaths from tobacco-related illness in the EU every year. In Ireland, approximately 5,500 people die every year from tobacco-related illness. A Eurobarometer survey shows that 28% of the EU population smoke, which includes 29% of young Europeans aged between 15 and 24. The overall prevalence rates in Ireland are more or less in line with European rates, at about 29%. However, the percentage of younger people who smoke is increasing, which is a cause of some concern.

I will provide some perspective in terms of cost to put the matter into context. The cost of treatment for tobacco-related illness, plus an estimate for lost productivity in the EU, is in the region of €33 billion annually, which equates to about 3% of total health spending across Europe. There are further figures available relating to an estimate of the cost of premature mortality. If one takes the figure based on monetising of lost years, it could be in the region of €500 billion in the EU. The cost to the EU is enormous and the cost to Ireland is, obviously, of the same proportion. It is also worth saying in respect of the figures I have just quoted that more than 80% of all lung cancer deaths are directly related to tobacco consumption. Clearly, if one is to address and ultimately eliminate tobacco consumption, one would go a long distance in terms of addressing and eliminating lung cancers. It is a very important issue for Europe and Ireland.

Last December, the European Commission published a proposal for a new EU product directive. As the Chairman stated, this seeks to update the existing tobacco product directive which was introduced in 2001 and is now over ten years old. The proposal concerns the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products in the EU. The overall objective for the revised directive is to improve the functioning of the internal market through greater harmonisation of existing measures. The basis for this is Article 114 of the treaty, which is a market provision. Article 114 does provide that a high level of health protection must be taken and this was taken as a basis when choosing between different policy options identified in the review of the directive. It is expected, therefore, that the implementation of the directive's provisions will contribute to a reduction in tobacco consumption. In its opening comments on this, the Commission estimated that it expects a reduction in consumption volume of about 2% as a result of this measure. Specifically, the draft directive seeks to put in place measures to make tobacco products and smoking less attractive to young people, with an overall effect of trying to address initiation rates. It is worth making the point that 70% of smokers across Europe started when they were under 18 and 94% of all smokers start when they are under 25. The focus of this particular piece of legislation is addressing initiation rates by making tobacco products less attractive through their marketing and presentation to young people.

As the committee is aware, Ireland has been a world leader in tobacco control initiatives through the years, most recently through the introduction of the smoking ban in 2004. The introduction of many successful tobacco control measures in Ireland has been facilitated by parallel developments in the EU. It is important that our policy and legislative framework continues to develop within the context of European activity.

The Commission has expressed the hope that the proposal will be adopted in 2014. Progressing this proposal has been identified as a key priority of the Irish Presidency. The Commission presented the proposal and the impact assessment to the first meeting of the working party on public health on 7 January, which was the first available working day. The working party is, obviously, chaired by Ireland and has met three times on this proposal. Approximately ten further meetings are scheduled between now and the middle of June. It is important to make the point that this is a Commission initiative but it falls to be progressed during the Irish Presidency.

Ireland's function is to facilitate agreement among member states and to progress the draft directive during our six month tenure. Since the original directive was introduced in 2001, there have been significant scientific and market changes. New evidence has become available on the flavourings used in tobacco products and on the effectiveness of health warnings. Novel products, including electronic cigarettes, have come on the market while recent marketing strategies have involved the use of attractive packaging and flavours. The draft directive seeks to revisit the tobacco control regime set out in 2001 to take account of developments in the meantime. All EU member states are party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or FCTC, which is an initiative of the World Health Organization, or WHO. Something of the order of 180 countries are signed up to the FCTC. The draft directive seeks to track developments under the FCTC to ensure that the EU is in line with how the WHO is moving in the area.

The draft proposal covers ingredients and emissions which will be addressed by a ban on attractive flavours. Increasingly, we have seen that flavours which might be attractive to younger people are being added to products to make them more palatable. The draft directive seeks to ban the inclusion of certain ingredients. The draft directive also deals in a very specific way with labelling and packaging and provides for joint text and picture warnings and specifies that 75% of the surface area of a packet must be covered. If the directive goes through as currently drafted, all member states will see joint text and picture messages covering 75% of the surface area of cigarette packaging. It will be a considerable movement on the current average in Europe. Importantly, the draft directive further provides for new traceability and security features which are designed to address illicit trading.

The directive also addresses nicotine-containing products which are not cigarettes - in effect electronic cigarettes - and seeks to analyse how these can be addressed. E-cigarettes were not on the market in 2001 when the original directive was developed. Broadly, it is proposed that electronic cigarettes which have a nicotine content above a certain level would come within the ambit of the medicinal products directive and would have to be authorised as medicinal. Those with a lower level of nicotine content would not have to be so authorised but would have to carry a health warning. There continues to be a great deal of scientific debate on the efficacy and risks associated with electronic cigarettes. The draft directive sets out provisions on cross-border distance sales of tobacco, in effect Internet sales. The directive seeks to introduce age verification arrangements to ensure children cannot order and purchase tobacco products online.

In summary, the draft directive provides for standardised cigarette packaging, larger public health warnings on packaging, a total ban on flavouring such as menthol and the maintaining of the ban on tobacco for oral use. The proposal aims to ensure that the provisions of the directive are not circumvented by the placing of products on the market which do not comply with it. The proposals have been adopted following extensive consultation with stakeholders undertaken by the European Commission. The Europe-wide public consultation exercise generated 85,000 responses. In addition, the Commission undertook a thorough impact assessment which has been published and commissioned a number of studies to consider economic implications. The Commission has done a great deal of preparation prior to bringing the proposal to the table.

In parallel with this process, the Department held a public consultation and invited submissions from members of the public. The closing date for the process was 16 January 2013 which was chosen to ensure we had all the submissions before the debate on the directive commenced in Brussels. We are analysing the submissions we received to establish the public view. As one would expect, there has been quite a variance in the submissions. Some responses were clearly organised. We received submissions which were part of postcard campaigns on behalf of people with a commercial interest in tobacco sales. There were also many responses from individuals and representative groups, including cancer societies. We are also consulting other Departments to obtain their views on the proposal. Other Departments will have particular perspectives.

A number of meetings of the working party are scheduled to take place in Brussels; probably ten. We are at a very early stage of discussions and, as of the last meeting on Monday. have yet to complete a read-through of the document. It is a complex and painstaking process. Many member states continue to consult and continue to have reservations on the document. Some member states have yet to show their hands entirely. Of those which have, there is a high level of general support for the direction in which the directive seeks to go. There has been a fair amount of unanimity on the need to tackle the initiation of young people into smoking. A number of member states have difficulties with some aspects of it. They are beginning to emerge but we will not have a clear picture until after two or three further meetings have taken place. We are happy to revert to the committee at a later stage when the picture is clearer.

I thank Mr. Chris Fitzgerald for an extensive presentation. I ask members to be brief as we have an extensive agenda.

I welcome Mr. Fitzgerald and Ms O'Brien. When the Minister attended the committee, he made a commitment that tobacco control would be a central plank of the Presidency, particularly the draft directive. Mr. Fitzgerald outlined that there was a very strong tobacco control ethos in Ireland and that legislation here is very advanced. The difficulty we have is that 29% of the population continue to smoke. There are alarming trends among young people who continue to take up cigarettes. An even more worrying trend is that there seems to be a high prevalence of take-up of cigarette smoking among young girls.

While we talk about the directive and tobacco control in general, where is the Commission in terms of dealing with this as a genuine public health issue? As long as we have huge disparities in the price of legally sold tobacco across member states, it is difficult for countries like Ireland to use high tobacco prices as a public health policy initiative. While we support that policy, it creates the difficulty of illicit tobacco trading. No one in Ireland takes that trade seriously and Customs and Excise, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda Síochána appear to have turned a blind eye to it. I can walk out of here and go to the main streets of the city and openly buy illegal cigarettes. It is something we must tackle head on. Clearly, nicotine is an addictive substance and many will go to extraordinary lengths to secure tobacco products.

If as a health policy initiative we have high prices for tobacco but at the same time allow illegal cigarettes to be sold openly throughout the country, we are not taking our own policies seriously. There is a lot of evidence to show that major criminal gangs are moving into the area of illicit tobacco trade because the authorities are not taking it seriously, and if a person is prosecuted, they will not end up behind bars, whereas if a person is dealing in narcotics, there is a good chance they will get a custodial sentence. There are large profits to be made from this trade.

We have banned the ten cigarette pack and we are moving on this directive. I published a Private Member's Bill on plain packaging which I would love to bring to this committee. What scientific evidence does the Commission, the Department of Health or the tobacco control unit here use to assess the policies to be put in place to deal seriously with this problem? Apart from advertising campaigns and the ban on smoking in the workplace which is moving across Europe, wherever one goes one sees a huge cohort of people starting to use tobacco products.

We need to deal with the legal organisations, the tobacco companies, which have massive resources and which in the past have lied to committees of the US Congress, saying that nicotine was not addictive and not bad for one's health. These huge multinationals are making an insidious effort by changing flavouring and using subtle or covert advertising through modelling agencies and all that flows from that. On what scientific basis does the Department or the Commission analyse the market and trends to see what policies would work as opposed to the window-dressing that is the case now?

How many submissions did the committee receive on this issue?

We received 80 postcards. It is in the text.

I welcome Mr. Fitzgerald and Ms O'Brien. I get a sense from our scrutiny of the proposed EU directive that more stick than carrot is being used to address tobacco use. With all the empty seats facing us this morning, the picture is not complete. An awful lot of carrot is needed and we should perhaps have the Department of Education and Skills here with the officials from the Department of Health. All the directives in the world, all the new regulation and enforcement will address the problem only at one end of the spectrum. I am more interested in the other end because the consequence of this and previous measures is displacement from the licit to the illicit trade. I believe in discouraging and giving young people the strength to make informed choices rather than follow their peers or whatever they view as the consequences of smoking, apart from the health risks.

I have no issue with the measures presented and I note the Department's recommendation but I am concerned that sufficient effort is not made to address the illicit trade. Very little within the five points the officials outlined will impact on the illicit market. Nobody within the illicit trade will be in any way unnerved by these measures whereas those who are involved in the manufacturing sector, and the many employed in the production of rolled tobacco in this State, are concerned. We have already mentioned this in our private session. The facts of the illicit trade are only guessed at and never really known but it is much more serious than the figures provided suggest. Those involved in the illicit trade will not be in any way impacted by this directive which introduces tracing and holograms. The Department of Health is perhaps only a part of the picture. What efforts are being employed in tandem with others to discourage people from taking up smoking?

I have two or three questions. In his opening presentation Mr. Fitzgerald said that based on EU research, the impact of tobacco consumption on the health budget is 3%. That seems extremely small based on what we have been told anecdotally, that tobacco consumption has a huge impact on the health budget. Could Mr. Fitzgerald please clarify that point?

A number of years ago we banned packs of ten cigarettes and the minimum one can purchase now is 20. The same provision is being introduced in this proposed directive in respect of loose tobacco to get rid of the smaller packages. What impact has the removal of the ten cigarette pack had on consumption, specifically among young people?

Could Mr. Fitzgerald elaborate on the point he made about flavours and what exactly he is talking about? It seems that these are alcopops for smokers. There was a huge public outcry when alcopops were introduced and tax was increased specifically on them because of the impact they had on young people, but now the same is happening in the tobacco industry with, for example, chocolate-flavoured cigarettes, which is totally unacceptable and needs to be banned outright.

Has any detailed research been done on what attracts young people to smoking when the health problems are already identified? The witnesses spoke about figures in the 15 to 24 age group. We also need to look at the ten or 12 to 15 age group.

My next concern is the research and how we formulate policy to steer young people away from starting to smoke. I am doing a research project in which we interview young people about their attitudes to the graphic pictures on the packaging. I hope to complete it within the next four to six weeks.

I am not at all sure from the initial results that it is having a huge influence and a few more people must be interviewed before we come to a conclusion. I wonder whether we are aiming policy in the right direction. Do we need to do much more research, particularly with regard to how we encourage younger people not to go down the road of smoking? I am not sure we are doing enough research in this area. Does the Department intends to take on any particular programme to examine this issue? We did it with regard to road traffic over a period of ten years and made huge progress. We need to research this issue far more and try to deal with it.

I thank the witnesses for their presentation and I must concur with some of what the previous speakers have stated on the various flavours of cigarettes. In my youth I was in a band which sang in front of 500 or 600 people in various places. I never smoked in my life but I should probably be long buried somewhere because of secondary smoking. I often ask myself why young people smoke and I have come to a few conclusions. These are that they think it is cool, and that social environment plays a role, as does family which has a great deal to do with young people smoking. If it is done at home by family members young people will automatically follow. The European survey is not correct with regard to the age of young people who smoke as I believe they are much younger. I see many children as young as ten or 12 years of age smoking as they come from primary schools.

I agree with Deputy Ó Caoláin that all we can do is stop young people smoking. There is very little we can do about older people smoking no matter what graphic images we put on cigarette packages. Education is crucial and it should begin at first class in primary school. Most schools now have CSPE courses and there is much that can be taught about health and smoking. If a young person with a chest infection attends the family GP the doctor should examine the history of the family and make people well aware of the risks of smoking, particularly if this young person comes from a background where an addiction to smoking has contributed to the death of family members. GPs and hospital doctors should play a key role by handing people leaflets or booklets on the risks of and statistics on smoking. This would go a long way towards helping young children.

I am disappointed that nobody has targeted young people with television advertisements on the health issues of smoking. The advertisement campaigns on road safety have played a huge part. I recently watched a very old film and I noticed that all of the famous actors in it were smoking. Thank God this seems to have been removed from what many young people watch. The characters in "Friends" and other television programmes do not smoke. I agree with Deputy Ó Caoláin that somebody from the Department of Education and Skills or the Department of Social Protection should have come before the committee this morning to hear the views being expressed.

When the Garda Commissioner came before the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality he highlighted the illicit tobacco trade and fuel laundering as the two biggest funders of criminal gangs in the country. The more we increase the price of cigarettes the more we drive certain people towards buying illicit cigarettes. As Deputy Kelleher stated it is not like one must go looking for them. One can buy them on Grafton St. In the pubs in my area they are advertised with telephone numbers one can call. No one seems to be tackling this issue.

Deputy Kelleher stated 29% of the population is still smoking. This figure seems static. Will the witnesses identify the percentage by which the number of smokers has reduced since the introduction of the smoking ban in the workplace? Has the number of smokers decreased since the removal of the box of ten cigarettes? Does the Department know the percentage of tobacco consumed through the illicit trade? We are all against smoking and we all acknowledge it is terribly bad for our health. The one benefit of legal tobacco sales is that the national school aged children mentioned by Deputy Byrne cannot go into their local shop and buy 20 cigarettes because they will not be sold to them, but they can get cigarettes through the illegal trade.

What percentage of the excise duty generated through the sale of tobacco is ring-fenced and given to the Department of Education and Skills to put in place a programme to educate young people on the dangers of taking up this filthy habit? There is an overemphasis by the Department on increasing the price and reducing the number of cigarettes which can be bought in a box. Now we are looking at reducing the size of a packet of rolled tobacco. At the same time the illicit trade is being ignored. Real jobs in the industry will be directly affected if the directive is implemented.

I welcome Mr. Fitzgerald and Ms O'Brien and I thank them for their presentations. It is very important that we make people aware that smoking is very dangerous. Putting a warning cover on the packaging is a step in the right direction. It is also very important that people realise tobacco contains 70 cancer-causing substances. It is wrong that tobacco should be flavoured as this will encourage young people to smoke. A tracking and tracing system is very important as it would help find the origin of the product and would also stop black market activity. I am very concerned about tobacco products being bought on the Internet. If it is possible to buy tobacco on the Internet it should be stopped. As has been stated, 70% of smokers began smoking under the age of 18. Most families have a computer, so it is very important that the Internet sale of tobacco products is stopped. Approximately 5,200 people in Ireland die every year from smoking-related illnesses. The job being done is very positive and I have learned much this morning. The more people realise that smoking is dangerous and the more we publicise this the better.

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

I will begin with some general comments and then answer the specific questions. Ms O'Brien will pick up on some of the questions. To respond to the point raised by Deputies Ó Caoláin and Kelleher it is important to emphasise that we are discussing a directive developed by the EU Commission. We see it as part of what we are trying to do in terms of tackling the problems with tobacco. It is now open to the 27 member states to develop and adapt this Commission initiative.

We are involved in the process because it is on the table and Ireland has the Presidency. It is a priority that we steer the issue. We are broadly supportive of the directive, as it is consistent with what we want to do.

Deputies Ó Caoláin, Kelleher and Byrne asked a general question on what we know about the reasons people start smoking and what the proven interventions that states can make are. We are constantly researching. As Senator Burke mentioned, we can never have too much research in this regard. In consultation with our colleagues in Northern Ireland, we have commissioned research on the reasons young people start smoking. Research informs policy.

The kinds of measures that are proven and are broadly accepted internationally as being effective are pricing, legislative control, information and education, and offering cessation services. These four are the tried and tested remedies. We have consistently tried to keep the cost of tobacco high. One of the complaints we constantly receive is that the cost of tobacco in Ireland is high. We recognise the fact that cost is a factor. The banning of packets of fewer than 20 cigarettes feeds into this thinking.

We have been at the forefront in terms of legislation. A legislative framework allows one to take certain actions. Legislation is important.

Information and education are very important. Through the years, we have invested heavily in public awareness media campaigns. To address Deputy Ó Caoláin's point, there is a cross-sectoral dimension, in that we must work in partnership with the Department of Education and Skills, community groups and whatever groups are working in this field. This initiative cannot be driven entirely by our Department or from within a legislative framework. Promoting school initiatives and so on are important. The HSE has been involved in many initiatives, working with communities around a range of health promotion issues, of which smoking is one. We must continue to be innovative in terms of how we reach out to young people in schools and communities and to adults in workplaces and so on. There is a role for other actors.

Deputy Kelleher or Deputy Naughten asked about the percentage of cost. The figures I cited were from the most recent EU study on this matter, which examined annual EU health care expenditure. The spending is largely hospital based and amounts to €25.3 billion, minus productivity losses. It equates to approximately 3% of health spending. However, if one considers the larger picture - the lost years of life and so on - the percentage increases considerably.

The impact in terms of pensions would negate some of that.

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

Yes.

The health spending on its own seems small.

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

It does, but that is the figure. It is reflected as a percentage of health spending. The total cost to individual member states would need to reflect substitution payments, for example, people in receipt of social welfare when they are off sick from work, a loss in productivity and premature death. These must be factored in to increase the figure, but the pure correlation between health spending in overall terms and health spending on tobacco-related conditions is of that order. It may seem surprising, although the figures are still enormous.

A number of comments were made on the illicit trade. Enforcement is a matter for Revenue and the Garda. We are working with them. Revenue is conscious of the issue and recently introduced a new initiative. The directive attempts to address the illicit trade through the tracking and tracing provisions, but the existence of the trade and the associated criminality cannot be denied.

I believe it was Deputy Naughten who asked what we knew about the effect of the ban on ten packs. Since the introduction of the ban on the sale of packs of fewer than 20 cigarettes, our current figures for the ten year old to 17 year old age group have fallen from 21.2% to 12%. It is difficult to know whether all of this decrease can be attributed to the elimination of ten packs, but we all know anecdotally that young children would not have the price of 20 packs. The market for loose cigarettes and small quantities of cigarettes was, to a large extent, aimed at young people. We believe that we got something wrong.

The Commission's research referred to evidence of a movement within the industry to introduce flavours of all sorts to make tobacco more palatable and attractive and, therefore, to initiate young people into smoking. There is no doubt about it. There is every possible flavour, including vanilla. One must assume that the only function of this is to make the product more palatable. When introducing the directive, former Commissioner Borg stated that his objective was to make tobacco products taste like tobacco products, which was a good way of describing it. Clearly, the industry is trying to make the product more palatable and, therefore, more acceptable to young people.

We have also seen the emergence on the market of lipstick-type boxes of cigarettes, which are usually pink in colour and look like lipsticks or other cosmetics. One must assume that these are not aimed at people of my age or disposition. I will leave it to members' imaginations to decide who the targets are. Slim cigarettes are another development along the same lines. A great deal of study has shown evidence of a subliminal association between slim cigarettes and slimness and sophistication via the use of catwalk models and so on in their marketing.

The directive is trying to tackle these issues. From a public health point of view, its primary function is to attack the initiation of young people into smoking.

I am not disagreeing, but is there not a concern that, if one bans slimline cigarettes or menthol flavouring, one is encouraging the illegal trade to flourish? If I smoke menthol, cannot buy a similar product and am at an age at which I do not want to give up cigarettes, is there not a temptation to walk down the main street, buy illegal cigarettes and keep the illicit trade flourishing?

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

There is always the argument that the harder one goes on any tobacco product, the further one drives traffic towards the illegal trade. The Commission recognised this argument by including in the directive provisions on tracking and tracing. Obviously, member states still have an obligation to address the illegal trade, but the directive is trying to focus on young people in the first instance by removing the industry's attractive enticements aimed at giving them the smoking habit. The illicit argument needs to be addressed in parallel, but it would not be an argument for not doing what the Commission is trying to do.

What of Deputy Kelleher's comment? If I heard him correctly, he did not believe that the tackling of the illicit trade was robust enough.

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

I do not want to speak for colleagues in Revenue or the Garda.

Nevertheless, the conversations we have suggest they are taking it very seriously. The illicit trade discussion has taken place on a number of levels and I have referred to the framework convention on tobacco control, which has 180 countries signed up to it. A new protocol on illicit trade was adopted at the last meeting of the framework convention in South Korea in November. We are party to this. At the EU level there is a specific provision within the directive to tighten up on tracking and tracing, which should address illicit trade. There are other issues relating to the daily management of this and we are not in a position to comment on them. The Department of Health wants to see the issue addressed in tandem with what we are doing with health provisions.

Deputy Troy was wondering about the jobs.

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

That related to employment-----

It is employment in Mullingar.

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

-----and the sale of rolling tobacco.

In advance of today's meeting I met various interest groups which were both for and against the proposed directive. It struck me that those in the vending machine business were very much concerned about rolling tobacco. The point was made by the witness that young people did not necessarily have the money to buy a pack of 20 cigarettes, and they may move to the illegal trade because of changes in regulations regarding pouches and vending machines. Those in the vending machine business foresee a profound impact on sales when there is a price increase or change. In local pubs in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere, people sell illegal tobacco, and it is of grave concern if we are encouraging people to go to the illicit trade.

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

We are discussing an initiative developed by the Commission and not by us.

I appreciate that.

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

We are responding to it. We have not got into a detailed discussion about that element of the proposed directive but the Commission's view was that it had to try to deal with all the elements of tobacco sale uniformly, taking the view that there can be stricter provisions for one element without addressing another element. It bears some further scrutiny with regard to the extent to which younger people are smoking rolling tobacco as opposed to manufactured cigarettes. I take the point.

Regardless of how the tobacco product is presented for sale, if we are successful, from a health perspective, in meeting our ultimate objective of de-normalising tobacco consumption, we should be heading to an end of eliminating tobacco consumption. That will clearly have an effect on people with an economic interest in the sale of tobacco. The difficulty is that on one level we are coming from a public health protection perspective, and other economic arguments must be balanced in this regard. That is one of the principal reasons the Commission used article 114 as the basis for the directive, as it is about levelling the market's playing pitch.

I will think about what was said and perhaps we can take the point up in Brussels. We have not got into the detail in any great extent.

I apologise but had to go to the Dáil for a few moments. I will not detain the witnesses. We must be very clear on the issue. If we suspended the meeting and headed to Moore Street or O'Connell Street, I could openly buy a pack of illegal cigarettes. We are trying to discourage people from smoking by increasing the price of tobacco and making it less attractive. That is a public health policy. The Department of Health should be very concerned about the number of illegal cigarettes on the street; it should be more concerned than the Departments of Justice and Equality or Finance because it is, fundamentally, a public health issue. It is fine to say it is a matter for the Department of Justice and Equality or Customs and Excise but if they are not being as forceful as they should be, it undermines the Department of Health's public health policy.

To be fair to the witness, he cannot speak on behalf of other agencies.

I am talking about the State's apparatus in fighting tobacco usage. One organisation cannot have a policy of increasing taxes and making a product more expensive while it can be argued that there is a flood of illegal cigarettes in the country funding criminality and everything else.

There is a similar context in the broader European debate. Some countries in the EU have very cheap legal cigarettes, and it is almost a policy of government to keep them cheap. In the same EU market, we are driving prices up. Cigarettes bought legally in Europe can be transported here for illegal sale. Nevertheless, they are manufactured and sold legally in the EU. It is not joined up thinking.

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

Ms O'Brien will deal with some of the detail but I will make a general point on some of the detail of Deputy Kelleher's comments. The Department of Health is concerned about any cigarettes for sale or the consumption of any cigarettes, whether legal or illegal. The health effects are probably not significantly different, although I suspect some of the illegal cigarettes may be more dangerous. We are concerned that any amount of tobacco is being consumed, either legally or illegally.

I share Deputy Kelleher's view in that it would make a nonsense of the issue if at one level we introduce a range of provisions and did not take a hard line with regard to illegal sales. What we are discussing in the context of the directive addresses legally sold products so the two issues must move in tandem. With regard to the detail and policing of the matter, it would not fall within our ambit. From an advocacy perspective, we are of the view that we must move together. That has been the case globally, in terms of the framework convention on tobacco control, which is a World Health Organisation initiative and which has recently seen a new protocol introduced. I attended the convention discussions and there was a reluctance by member states to get into the area of fiscal policy. The second point raised by the Deputy can only really be addressed by some sort of cohesion in fiscal policy, which will not be achieved. The Deputy knows that as much as I do.

We are concerned about the unacceptable level of tobacco consumption. Any consumption is unacceptable but it is particularly so at 29%. The directive offers a number of ways to strengthen our current regime and we are supportive of that.

Ms Dilly O'Brien

I should reiterate what Mr. Fitzgerald is saying with regard to the WHO and different international research. The directive is one part of the issue and only relates to the products, their manufacture and sale. There are other issues and the WHO has approved under the convention different ways to go, including increasing price and using enforcement to tackle illicit trade. I agree that one area of price seems to push to another, and it is incumbent on the State to ensure that all arms are working together.

The Department is developing a tobacco policy review group, with a report coming to finalisation. It deals with many of the issues raised by the Deputy, including awareness. Towards a Tobacco-Free Society was a strategy done in 2001, and much has happened since. The new policy document will build on that, considering matters such as new legislation, awareness and education in schools and media campaigns. There is an overall framework to cover all areas in the country.

In private session before the witnesses attended, we addressed the issue of the roll-your-own tobacco manufacturing that is taking place within the jurisdiction. In the context of what Mr. Fitzgerald stated about taking a lot at the issue, I will add a further comment. The issue is between dissuading and the potential to displace. Dissuading is my preference by a long shot. That is why I made the point that we did not have an holistic, in-the-round address of the issue. We only have it from the health perspective. Although that is about discouraging, the measures being employed are more on the stick as regards manufacturing and promotion.

The potential displacement is more likely under these measures, that is, moving people from the licit to the illicit. The directive is flawed in that respect.

What is the measurement in respect of the packs? Is it 40g?

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

The measurements are 12.5g, 25g and 40g.

The 12.5g and 25g are to go.

Except the 40g.

The profile in question is of young people. I can understand the ten cigarette pack argument in terms of young people, particularly a cohort of young , but they are not the image that comes to mind when I think of roll-your-own cigarettes. It is a different cohort of users, people who generally have the choice and invariably have a particular common economic circumstance. I do not know whether we are really addressing the issue by penalising people who truly cannot afford the larger option at any one given time. I do not believe that we are serving the argument well by making it punitive for people to purchase 40g packs of tobacco-----

(Interruptions).

Someone’s telephone is ringing.

-----instead of 12.5g or 25g packs. I ask that the witnesses take this point on board and consider it. The measure will not aid any of the objectives that we have in common. It is important that this be emphasised because some will interpret, and others will suggest even on this committee, this as meaning that some of us are weak in this regard when that is not the case. We want to see the right result. Discouragement is the way to do it. People will most certainly make the right choice then.

What precautions are we taking to prevent young people from buying tobacco products from the Internet?

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

We currently have no particular provision in that regard, but it will be covered in the directive’s distance sales element.

I know that the Chairman is anxious to conclude. I am happy to consider the issues raised by Deputies Troy and Ó Caoláin. I apologise for thumbing through the document while Deputy Ó Caoláin was speaking. I was trying to find a particular reference on which I was not able to put my hand, but we will certainly consider the issues again in the context of the discussions in Brussels. I am not giving a commitment to do anything on it, but we will consider it.

I thank the witnesses for appearing before the committee, for giving of their time and for their extensive presentation. We will move into private session to deliberate further. If they would not mind doing so, I ask people in the public gallery to leave us for a while.

The joint committee went into private session at 11.14 a.m. and resumed in public session at 11.29 a.m.

We are now in public session. I remind members, witnesses and people in the gallery to turn off their mobile telephones. I apologise for keeping people waiting. We had a very lengthy discussion on the EU directive. With regard to our discussion in private session on COM (2012) 788, a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the member states concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products, is it agreed that the committee write to the Department of Health and request it to take into consideration the views and observations expressed and to keep the committee updated on the proposal? Agreed. I thank the committee members for their deliberations and I thank Ms Fiona Cashin, our EU scrutiny policy clerk, for her extensive work on this matter.