Tobacco directive: Belgium’s European deputies targeted by Philip Morris

  • Secret documents reveal the tobacco lobby’s power.
  • It has succeeded in delaying deliberation on the directive.

Confidential internal documents from Philip Morris, the world’s number one tobacco company, which Le Soir was able to examine, prove that the cigarette maker systematically surveyed the entire European parliament to determine if it could delay the vote or amend the European directive on tobacco. The directive’s text proposes a ban on flavors such as menthol, requires that 75% of packaging surface area be covered with health warnings and submits electronic cigarettes to the same requirements as medication, particularly in proving their safety and effectiveness.

 

In these documents each parliament member is flagged by a green, orange or red mark, according to whether he or she backs the cigarette maker’s position. Information is provided in detail. Is the member in favor of neutral, unbranded packaging? Does he or she want menthol banned? Is he or she in favor of larger health warnings or of prohibiting the product’s display at the point of sale?

 

Belgians flagged

 

Many members of parliament thus analyzed, come from the Union’s new countries. Clearly, the weight of economic arguments is more important there than in the “old countries.” However, a few Belgians have been flagged. Marianne Thyssen, former CD&V president, is noted as an unfavorable choice as possible Commission president. Apparently, what she has revealed about her positions on health does not bode well for the nicotine merchant. Member of parliament Anne Delvaux (CDH) has not been found out, and her “report” remains empty. On the other hand, Frédérique Ries’ (MR) marks are all red, as he is opposed to the cigarette maker’s position.

 

Cigarette lobbyists, at least 161 of whom are active on this issue, are not content simply to evaluate each member’s opinion. In August 2012 even before the health commission’s adoption of the directive, they had already held lengthy meetings with 257 European elected officials, which is no mean feat considering how full calendars are. The firm developed a standardized method to be sure its position is fully presented. The arguments to be used are listed: “ineffective measure” or “legal concern over brand protection.” The effect on small businesses must be mentioned. The lobbyists have two other arguments prepared: “Where will social regulation stop?” and “It’s better to teach young people not to smoke.” This “teaching” is ineffective, but they don’t care.

 

The cigarette maker’s lobbyists have significant budgets, including over €500,000 for “events.” Does this mean just working lunches, or will it spill over into bribery? In another file there are a few members of parliament who have admitted to receiving money for submitting “pre-written” texts. The documents revealed today are silent on that point. Philip Morris responds that its work complies with Brussels’ lobbying regulations, but their lobbyists seem to be quite well informed. For example, in their August 2012 plan they expected a “spontaneous” demonstration by tobacco sellers in the European capital several weeks later. Spontaneous? Really?

 

FREDERIC SOUMOIS

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