Busting the myths – the Revised EU Tobacco Products Directive


I have recently received lots of signatures to a petition opposing the Revised EU Directive on Tobacco Products, set to be adopted in 2014. I think it’s important – given the amount of time and money spent by tobacco companies to oppose this policy – that some concerns surrounding the Directive are clarified so people can have a balanced debate about the issue.

Firstly, this is about updating existing legislation. It has been over 10 years since the EU adopted the Tobacco Products Directive, during which time there have been some major market, research and international changes in the tobacco industry. The existing Directive therefore has a number of weaknesses and loopholes – and there have been repeated calls for an update. This Directive aims to strengthen and simplify rules for how tobacco products are made, presented and sold, reduce illegal trade, and address products which aren’t currently regulated – such as internet sales. 

Secondly, there remains a clear need for action on tobacco. Tobacco is the biggest avoidable health risk in Europe, and is causing 100,000 thousand deaths a year in the UK alone. Half of all smokers die young. Smokers have the right to take informed decisions about the products they are consuming, and the implications that these will have for their future health. That is what new health warnings, and regulation of ingredients, aim to provide.

Thirdly, the Revised EU Tobacco Products Directive aims to protect children. Tobacco is an addiction from childhood. 94% of smokers start before they are 25 – and a shocking 70% before they are even 18. Research shows that reducing the attractiveness and appeal of smoking (for instance by removing flavored cigarettes and super slim packs) stops young people from starting to smoke. Some of these measures may be unpopular, but I know from many of my constituents that people want the Government to do more to protect our children from tobacco. Opinion polls prove this.

Fourthly, this isn’t “EU Meddling”.  The tobacco industry is stirring up fears of ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ imposing new and unwanted regulation on UK consumers. But actually this is about fulfilling our international responsibilities to public health. As a party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, we have made a UN commitment to take action – and this Directive is about fulfilling that promise.

And finally, the reaction of the tobacco industry to this Directive raises some strong concerns. Can you remember tobacco company’s opposition to any action on smoking, with parts of the industry even questioning the link between tobacco and cancer?

Many of my constituents have been hugely disappointed with the UK Government’s indecision, delay and refusal to implement plain packaging for cigarettes I therefore welcome the EU’s tough stance on this issue – someone needs to take action to protect the health of future generations.



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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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You can reach me by email at richard@richardburden.com or use the form on the Contact page to send me a message.