I understand that there is a motion for resolution doing the rounds in the European Parliament basically banning any contact between the tobacco industry and the EU institutions. If this is true, not only is it gratuitously prohibitive and an ill-thought-out interpretation of what is in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, it is also smacks of posturing which could result in bad governance: Particularly at a time when EU policy-makers need to work closely with the tobacco industry to crack down on the growing threat of counterfeit and contraband tobacco.
Tobacco smuggling undermines both the industry as well as EU Member States. The imperative for EU action is the €8bn revenue loss for EU governments in 2008.Tobacco smuggling cost the industry €700m last year.
The Organised Crime, Contraband and Counterfeiting Forum is about to embark on a campaign for a more joined-up approach to fight tobacco smuggling. Some MEPs have already signed up to the cause – such as Bill Newton Dunn (UK, ALDE), Edit Herzog (Hun, S&D) and Andreas Schwab (Ger, EPP). Newton-Dunn wants a European version of the FBI to counter the smuggling trade. How well would they be able to contribute to policy development on this if they were banned from speaking to the industry
OLAF too is talking about the need for greater cross-border co-operation. So far the only co-ordinated effort is being led by the WHO through the FCTC and this just calls on governments to “monitor and collect data on cross border trade in tobacco products including illicit trade”.
The EU should allocate more manpower to stop smuggling (according to the EC Customs Directorate, there are now 10,000 fewer customs officers across the EU than five years ago). MEPs and Commission officials need to be better educated about the industry and how it can help reduce the smuggling. Likewise, EU governments would do well to recognise that it is the sharp excise duties that lead to such big price differentials which has created the boom in illicit trade.
In short - both the industry and the institutions need more dialogue right now - not less