It was day for anti-tobacco activists in Europe as its High Court confirms anti-tobacco laws, but this modest win still does not address Codentify, which could prove most harmful to citizens.
Recently the New York Times’s columnist David Jolly reported on the recent upholding of new anti-tobacco laws that will take effect at the end of May. The laws included in the EU High Court decision were the legal right of the legislative coalition to restrict and regulate the newly established e-cigarette industry, a ban on menthols, as well as obliging all cigarette packs to contain an image of diseased lungs, also known as “Plain Packaging”.
Despite this monumental confirmation of anti-tobacco laws, the article reports that twenty-eight countries in the EU aren’t necessarily bound by all of the laws’ stipulations, and can essentially customize the laws to their specific needs. Therefore, the binding nature, and the net positive effect henceforth, of this new set of laws can be put into serious doubt.
Luckily, however, the article notes that even with the addendum of flexibility, the general ruling cannot be appealed by the tobacco industry, which can be considered a win in its own right. Nevertheless, the EU should prepare for an assault by Big Tobacco to reverse these common-sense laws that have only now been cleared by the High Court. According to most experts, the tobacco lobby will most likely consolidate its fight against plain packaging.
The law was originally passed in 2014, and yet these stipulations are only going to be put into effect this month. That’s because, according to the article, certain countries appealed the legality of the 2014 laws because their populations and economies could “suffer” as a result, particularly Poland, Romania and England. Their courts begged whether the law should be indiscriminately extended across of all member states.
Take Poland: according to the New York Times, “Poland…has one of the world’s highest rates of menthol cigarette consumption,” which certainly clears the air as to where Poland (and its ally in this instance, Romania) stands in the fight against tobacco, and why they pioneered the appeal of these laws, particularly the part banning menthols.
That’s why this case has taken particularly long, and had to be ratified by the Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which essentially serves as the EU’s main appeals court to member states. Ultimately, however, the Court of Justice ruled that the law was legal and should be “applied evenly across the bloc”.
Additionally, the regulation of e-cigarettes is a big step forward in the fight against Big Tobacco in Europe. Yet the article mentions no detailed analysis of these restrictions, and happen to note that the restrictions will certainly be weaker than that of traditional cigarettes.
The article notes that while the United States lacks federal laws against e-cigarettes, many individual states have taken it upon themselves to limit their use in public. In this regard, Europe has lots of catching up to do if it aims to sustain its reputation as being a pro-health coalition.
However, what grossly overshadows this modest legislative success is the complete lack of mention of the most dangerous policy in the European tobacco market: Codentify.
Without the prevention of Codentify, all the aforementioned laws, and any future laws could prove completely obsolete.
For those who aren’t aware, Codentify is a technological regulatory system aimed at preventing the manufacturing, shipping and sale of counterfeit tobacco products. The purpose of such a system is to be able to track and trace all legitimate sales, and thus determine what is or is not a legal form of tobacco.
The reason such a system needed remains multifold. Firstly, the counterfeit tobacco market tends to use lower-quality and more harmful tobacco in their products since they are beyond the scope of health regulations. The source and delivery of these products are even linked to terrorist organizations in the Middle East and North Africa. This inevitably makes the customer more at risk of health issues, and without the proper knowledge of the carcinogenic potential in the cigarette he or she was smoking.
Moreover, the counterfeit market allows many large tobacco corporations to evade millions of Euros in taxes that they would otherwise be giving back to citizens. This gives a major incentive for these tobacco corporations to actually participate in the counterfeit market. In fact, there have been many cases linking direct involvement between tobacco executives and the illegal sale of tobacco products both domestically and overseas.
Which makes it all the more ironic that the Codentify system was actually conjured up by Big Tobacco, and lobbied by them as well. This conflict of interest alone should be reason enough to be skeptical of the Codentify and block any attempt of implementing it in Europe.
Yet even the system itself has proven to be unreliable – primarily because it lacks any real track and trace system necessary for monitoring the counterfeit movement and sale of tobacco. When we look at all these reasons, the fact that Codentify still receives a general level of support in the EU Parliament is astonishing and baffling – especially when we receive news of superficial laws like those the New York Times relayed this week.
In closing, while anti-tobacco leaders have a right to celebrate their win in the EU High Court today, they must not lose the forest for the trees, and should concentrate their efforts on blocking Codentify from being implemented in the European Union as soon as possible.