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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"In future health warnings could be a lot bigger"
 real 56k

David Hinchliffe, Health Select Committee chairman
"We believe the government must take stronger action"
 real 28k

Chris Proctor, British American Tobacco
"I would support bigger warnings if I thought people didn't know the risks"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Tobacco industry under attack
Tobacco haul
Tobacco seizures have increased
The tobacco industry is under fire from all sides with calls for tougher regulation in the UK and Europe.

Euro-MPs have agreed proposals which could lead to vastly-enlarged health warnings, but have rejected calls for gruesome pictures of rotting teeth and lungs on packets.

And MPs in the UK have urged the Department of Trade and Industry to investigate claims linking a tobacco firm to large-scale cigarette smuggling.

These messages should be harder-hitting

Health Select Committee report on smoking
The House of Commons Health Select Committee's hard-hitting report, released on Wednesday, says that criminal proceedings should be considered against British American Tobacco (BAT) should the allegations prove true.

However, the European decision could prove more damaging to the industry in general, with warnings to cover at least 35% of the front of the pack.

Currently the warnings cover 4% of the pack.

In addition the use of terms such as "mild" and "low tar" would be banned.

The Commons report also calls for packets to carry harder-hitting health warnings, including messages that smoking could cause impotence.

It wants the creation of a new body to oversee advertising and labelling, and an end to the current voluntary agreements with the industry.

packs on shelf
Warnings are small on current packets
The MPs said: "These messages should be harder hitting and more relevant to consumers than those currently used."

The committee also called on the government to set tougher targets to stop people smoking - and to protect non-smokers from the effects of other people's smoke.

Tobacco "bootlegging" costs the Treasury an estimated 2.5bn a year in lost duty.

It is alleged that some companies were "complicit" in organised tobacco smuggling by being prepared to supply large quantities of cigarettes to sources in continental Europe used by organised bootlegging operations.

BAT has been accused of orchestrating, managing and controlling cigarette smuggling. It strenuously denies the claims.

The committee said: "The allegations need to be looked at independently and we therefore call on the DTI to investigate them. If they prove to be substantiated, the case for criminal proceedings against BAT should be considered.

"If they prove to be false, then those perpetrating them should publicly apologise."

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers could use powers under the Companies Act to launch a probe of BAT's accounts and grill its staff under oath.

Claims denied

Clive Bates
Clive Bates: pressing for an investigation
BAT's deputy chairman, former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke, described the claims as "far-fetched", insisting that the company only sold to legitimate outlets, and paid all excise duties.

Clive Bates, from anti-smoking group Ash, welcomed both decisions: "What we need now is a complete rethink and overhaul of the regulatory framework and a serious investigation into the rogue business practices related to smuggling."

John Carlisle, from the Tobacco Manufacturer's Association, said: "Of course the health warnings should be on, but what we don't want is our own brand names being obliterated by health warnings - which, at the end of the day, aren't going to reduce cigarette consumption."

The European proposals have infuriated tobacco industry bosses.

Denise Claveloux, corporate affairs director for Philip Morris Europe, said: "What we're looking for is balance. I'm not sure we're achieving balance with the kinds of numbers that are being suggested."

The European tobacco directive will still have to be approved by EU member governments.

Other recommendations in the Commons Health Select Committee's report include:

  • Regarding nicotine as comparable to drugs such as heroin and cocaine when anti-smoking strategies are produced
  • Encouraging the use of proof of age cards to stop tobacco products being sold to children.
  • Banning shopkeepers found guilty of selling cigarettes to under-16s from selling any tobacco products
  • Introducing plain packaging for all tobacco products so all cigarette packs are the same colour and have brand names in a standard type face
  • Making nicotine replacement therapies available on prescription for a total of six weeks
  • Making tobacco companies list the additives in tobacco on packets

Dr Martin Jarvis, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund who acted as an expert adviser to the health select committee, said the recommendations could mark a turning point in the regulation of the tobacco industry.

"If the government implement them, it could help to avoid many of the 120,000 deaths from cigarettes this year."

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14 Jun 00 | Europe
Europe's smoking shock tactics
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