Euro puritans' blow against choice

Posted on May 5, 2016

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has, as expected, ruled that the European Parliament was within its rights to impose new rules on tobacco and e-cigarettes under the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). The ECJ is not to blame for these stupid rules - that's all down to our elected representatives in the Parliament, in cahoots with the European Commission. But the ruling does remind us that if you give a distant bureaucracy an inch, they will take a mile.

The new rules affecting tobacco include:

  • gruesome health warnings on cigarette packs covering at least 65 per cent of the pack;

  • member states like the UK specifically allowed to go further and introduce branding-free 'plain packs';

  • a ban on 'characterising flavours' like menthol;

  • a ban on cigarette packs smaller than 20 cigarettes and packs of rolling tobacco smaller than 30 grams.

In relation to ecigs, the new rules include:

  • a ban on most forms of advertising;

  • limits on container sizes to 10ml;

  • limits on liquid strength to a maximum of 20mg;

  • a system of registration for new products with six months' notice required before going on sale.

All this is justified on the basis of being 'useful for the smooth functioning of the internal market', despite the fact that individual states will still have the power to go even further and Sweden will retain its opt-out on the ban on snus. In fact, as Christopher Snowdon has pointed out, this is a bizarre way to ensure 'market harmonisation'. If free markets really were the aim, for example, why impose the innovation-throttling requirement to register new products or ban advertising of them when they are finally available for sale?

Much has been written about the egregious nature of these rules. In particular, many have pointed to the fact the rules have commonly been justified on the grounds of protecting health, yet will strangle the nascent e-cigarette industry - despite the fact that most vapers are ex-smokers and vaping is considerably less risky to health than smoking. The Tobacco Products Directive is so bone-headed that it fails even in its main aim - to protect health.

The bigger issue is choice. What on earth business is it of the European Union (or any government, for that matter) to determine the size of a packet or the flavour of a product? No longer will we be allowed to buy packs of 10 cigarettes (or even 19 cigarettes, the way some cheaper brands are sold). No longer can the causal smoker buy an all-in-one pack of rolling tobacco, filters and papers because the tobacco pack included is now too small for EU rules. No longer can smokers choose cigarettes that are mildly minty. Let's just pause on that point for a moment: mintiness is now deemed to be a matter for legislation.

Smokers and vapers are being herded into a narrow range of state-approved options by unaccountable bureaucrats and distant politicians on a mission to save us from ourselves. It's time to reassert our right to make these choices for ourselves.