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.