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Member states urged to do more to enforce new tobacco legislation

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Some member states are failing to implement an EU law which bans flavours being added to tobacco products, it has been claimed, writes Martin Banks.

It is alleged that, despite the near year-old EU legislation, some tobacco companies have continued to launch extra menthol style products.

The Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), applicable in EU member states, imposed a ban on flavoured tobacco products.

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The Directive includes measures on e-cigarettes, flavourings, additives and packaging.

Cigarettes and RYO (roll your own) tobacco may no longer have flavours such as menthol, vanilla or candy that mask the taste and smell of tobacco. It is hoped the move will help deter young people from taking up smoking by banning cigarettes with a ‘characterising flavour’ other than tobacco.

Governments across Europe, though, have criticised tobacco companies for allegedly trying to get around the ban. Member states are known to be now investigating the issue but have yet to take any firm action.

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The European Commission, in turn, has deferred to member states,arguing that it is up to national capitals to enforce the EU wide legislation.

The directive, introduced last May, aims to prevent “characterising flavours” in cigarettes to make them less attractive to children and help smokers quit.

Some governments,including Ireland say they want the European ban on menthol cigarettes strengthened to stop tobacco companies side-stepping it.

The Irish Health Service Executive says it is “actively investigating” tobacco companies over alleged breaches of the menthol cigarette ban. Irish health minister Stephen Donnelly says that the directive is “being reviewed at EU level” and he would strongly support any revisions to the directive that would ensure that the provision in relation to the menthol ban is “robust”.

An appeal against the EU law change was attempted by Philip Morris, the manufacturer of cigarette brands such as Marlboro, but it was rejected by the European Court of Justice.

A number of member states are reportedly actively investigating products in their markets produced by some companies including Japan Tobacco International (JTI) which anti-tobacco campaigners and rival tobacco companies claim is in breach of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). 

Japan Tobacco International, the maker of Silk Cut, says it is “confident that all our cigarettes and rolling tobacco are fully compliant in the EU.”

Countries with new brands are believed to include Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

A 2021 “management plan” by the European Commission’s SANTE directorate said that “After the menthol ban took effect in May 2020, several Member States started procedures on determining characterising flavours in tobacco products.” 

A Commission official told this site that the “rules for the procedures and workflow for the determination process are laid down in Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2016/779 of 18 May 2016.

“The Commission has recently approved the methodology to assist in the determination of the characterising flavours in tobacco products. This is an important element going forward.”

The official added, “The Commission also works on the coordination of the efforts taken by individual Member States as regards their national procedures.”

Several member states have reported some suspected tobacco products containing characterising flavours on their respective markets and a few EU countries have started national investigation procedures about which they also informed the Commission.

A JTI spokesperson told this site, “We do not sell or plan to sell cigarettes or rolling tobacco with characterizing flavors in the EU. These products have been banned since May 20, 2016 (with a derogation for cigarettes and rolling tobacco with a characterizing flavor of menthol that expired on May 20, 2020). Some of our cigarettes and rolling tobacco still contain very low levels of menthol.”

The spokesman said, “This is permitted under the law, provided that the use of such flavorings does not produce a clearly noticeable smell or taste other than one of tobacco – which they do not. We provided the EU authorities with information on the ingredients of these products prior to selling them on the market, ensuring full transparency. We are therefore confident that all our cigarettes and rolling tobacco are fully compliant in the EU.”

The EU has claimed an overall successful application of the TPD even though there are still banned products thought to be circulating.

A commission press release last year said, “Cigarettes and roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco products may no longer have characterising flavours such as menthol, vanilla or candy that mask the taste and smell of tobacco. In the case of products with more than a 3% market share (e.g. menthol), the ban will apply as of 2020.”

A source at the European parliament said, “It seems that some companies are taking advantage of the slowness by member states to act and continue to launch extra menthol style products.

“The Commission may be looking to ban or restrict more products but surely it first needs to address the enforcement issue and the gaps in the current TPD.”

Flavouring is prohibited also in filters, papers, packages, capsules or any technical features allowing modification of the smell or taste of the tobacco products concerned or their smoke intensity1. The TPD bans characterising flavours ‘other than that of tobacco’, meaning that it is ‘an added component that cannot be found in natural tobacco leaves’.

According to the WHO, the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, resulting in more than 8 million deaths each year. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while about 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to secondhand smoke.

Moreover, the economic costs of tobacco use are substantial and include significant healthcare costs for treating the diseases caused by tobacco use as well as the lost human capital that results from tobacco-attributable morbidity and mortality.

Belgium

Commission approves €45 million Belgian scheme to support companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €45 million Belgian scheme to support companies active in the Brussels-Capital region affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Belgian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The public support was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, which goes under the name 'la prime Relance', the aid will take the form of direct grants. Eligible beneficiaries are companies of all sizes active in the following sectors: nightclubs, restaurants and cafés (‘ReCa') and some of their suppliers, events, culture, tourism, sport and passenger transport. In order to be eligible, companies must have been registered in the Central Bank for Enterprises (‘la Banque-Carrefour des Enterprises' ) by 31 December 2020. The Commission found that the Belgian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the support (i) will not exceed €1.8 million per company; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021.

The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64775 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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European Commission

Macro-financial assistance: EU disburses €125 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina and €50 million to the Republic of Moldova

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The European Commission, on behalf of the EU, has carried out another round of disbursements under the €3 billion macro-financial assistance package for ten enlargement and neighbourhood partners. The programme is a concrete demonstration of the EU's solidarity with its partners to help respond to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission has disbursed €125 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina and €50 million to the Republic of Moldova. This support is provided through loans at very favourable rates. With these disbursements, the EU has successfully completed five out of the 10 MFA programmes in the €3 billion COVID-19 MFA package, and disbursed the first tranches to all partners. The Commission continues to work closely with the rest of its MFA partners on the timely implementation of the agreed policy programmes. 

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European Commission

NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Finland's €2.1 billion recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has adopted a positive assessment of Finland's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €2.1 billion in grants to Finland under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The financing provided by the RRF will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Finland's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a significant role in enabling Finland to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF is the key instrument at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide up to €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Finnish plan forms part of an unprecedented coordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

The Commission assessed Finland's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms contained in Finland's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.

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Securing Finland's green and digital transitions  

The Commission's assessment finds that Finland's plan devotes 50% of the plan's total allocation on measures that support climate objectives. Finland has announced an ambitious target for achieving carbon neutrality by 2035. The reforms and investments included in the plan will make an important contribution to Finland achieving this objective. The plan addresses each of the highest emitting sectors in turn, namely energy, housing, industry and transport. It includes reforms to phase out the use of coal in energy production, changes to taxation to favour cleaner technologies, and a reform of the Waste Act with increased targets for recycling and reuse. On the investment side, the plan will finance clean energy technologies and related infrastructure, industry decarbonisation, the replacement of oil boilers with low- or zero-carbon heating systems and private and public charging points for electric cars.

The Commission's assessment finds that Finland's plan devotes 27% of its total allocation on measures that support the digital transition. The plan includes measures to improve high-speed internet connectivity, particularly in rural areas, support the digitalisation of businesses and the public sector, enhance digital skills of the workforce and support the development of key technologies such as artificial intelligence, 6G and microelectronics.

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Reinforcing Finland's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Finland's plan includes an extensive set of mutually reinforcing reforms and investments that contribute to effectively addressing the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Finland in recent years.

It contains a broad set of reform measures to raise the employment rate and strengthen the functioning of the labour market, ranging from the transformation of Public Employment Services to improving and facilitating access to social and healthcare services. The plan includes specific measures to provide integration support for young people and people with partial work-capacity. The plan also includes measures to strengthen the effective supervision and enforcement of Finland's anti-money laundering framework.

The plan represents a comprehensive and balanced response to the economic and social situation of Finland, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

Supporting flagship investment and reform projects

Finland's plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects, which address issues that are common to all Member States in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the green and digital transition. For instance, Finland has proposed to provide €161 million to investments in new energy technologies and €60m toward the decarbonisation of industrial processes to support the green transition. To support the digital transition, the plan will invest €50m in the rollout of rapid broadband services and €93m to support the development of digital skills as part of continuous learning and labour market reforms.

The Commission's assessment finds that none of the measures included in the plan significantly harms the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The Commission considers that the controls systems put in place by Finland are adequate to protect the financial interests of the Union. The plan provides sufficient details on how national authorities will prevent, detect and correct instances of conflict of interest, corruption and fraud relating to the use of funds.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “I am delighted to present the European Commission's endorsement of Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan. I am proud that NextGenerationEU will make a significant contribution to support Finland's goal to become carbon neutral by 2035. The plan will also help bolster Finland's reputation for excellence in innovation with support for the development of new technologies in areas such as artificial intelligence, 6G and microelectronics. We will stand with Finland throughout the plan's implementation to ensure that the reforms and investments it contains are fully delivered.”

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The Commission has today given its green light for Finland's recovery and resilience plan, which will set the country on a greener and more digital path as it recovers from the crisis. This plan will help Finland to meet its ambitious carbon-neutrality target by 2035, with reforms and investments that will reduce carbon emissions from energy production, housing, industry and transport. We welcome its focus on high-speed connectivity, particularly for sparsely populated areas to help maintain their economic activity, and on digitalising smaller businesses and the public sector. With reforms to boost employment and strengthen the labour market, Finland's plan will promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth once it is put into effect.”

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan is strongly focused on the green transition. No less than 50% of its total allocation is set to support climate objectives, helping to speed the country towards its ambitious target of carbon neutrality by 2035. The plan also contains an array of measures to boost Finland's already strong digital competitiveness. I particularly welcome the Finnish plan's strong social elements, with measures to raise the employment rate, tackle youth unemployment and facilitate access to social and healthcare services.”

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a decision to provide €2.1bn in grants to Finland under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €271m to Finland in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total allocated amount for Finland.

The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the recovery and resilience plan, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

More information

Questions and Answers: European Commission endorses Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan

Factsheet on Finland's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Finland

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Finland

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and Answers

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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