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Tobacco Industry Advertising in the EU Term Paper


Tobacco consumption is the leading avoidable cause of death in Europe. Traditionally, the tobacco industry in Europe was left to regulate itself since tobacco use was viewed as a matter of personal choice and government regulation was weak. The tobacco industry argued that intense government regulation was unnecessary for a legal product that was used by individuals on their own volition.

However, this attitude changed rapidly in the EU starting from the late 1990s. The EU and its Member States singled out tobacco use as a vital area that needed significant government intervention and control. The Union recognized the significant health and economic burden that tobacco use caused to its constituent States and their citizens.

Statistics indicate that 650,000 people in the EU die because of smoke related health issues each year. Berger-Walliser and Bird reveal that tobacco consumption kills up to half of its users (1016). In addition to this, smoking costs the EU about $100 billion annually in health care costs and other indirect costs including premature disability and lost productivity.

For this reason, the member states agree that preventing smoking is good for the health and economic outcomes of the countries. With these considerations, the EU has implemented a series of directives and recommendations aimed at reducing tobacco use within the EU. One area that has been targeted in the aim to encourage a decline in tobacco use is advertisement.

This paper will endeavor to provide an informative image of the situation with tobacco advertising and sponsorships in the EU considering the legal obligation of EU member states to implement the Directive 2003/33/EC, which effectively banned the advertisement of tobacco products.

Advertising and Tobacco in the EU

The EU and its Member States have recognized the many adverse effects that tobacco use causes. To reduce the tobacco consumption levels within the region, the EU has concentrated on advertisement.

In spite of persistent claims by the tobacco industry that advertisement does not have any impact in the overall tobacco consumption among member states, the EU has consistently suggested that advertising does indeed affect tobacco consumption. Advertising is regarded as one of the most visible business activities and it aims at attracting people to use the advertised product and increases its market share of the product.

Advertising therefore plays a significant role in promoting sales and attracting new consumers. According to the European Health Forum, there is a positive relationship between aggregate cigarette advertising and aggregate cigarette consumption (Smith et al. 3). In addition to this, the EU contends that advertising is responsible for the favorable assessment of people who smoke by the rest of society.

This social acceptability contributes to the promotion of new smokers therefore increasing the number of tobacco users. The strategies and policies aimed at reducing tobacco use have therefore targeted multiple forms of tobacco advertising within the EU.

EU Regulations

From its early years, the EU had grand ambitions of reducing tobacco consumption among its member states. One area that has been particularly targeted by the European Commission is tobacco advertisement.

In 1998, the European Council issued directive 89/552/EEC, which required member states to impose a mandatory bad on all tobacco advertising and prohibit brand name sponsorship and promotion at public events (Gruning et al. 4). In response to this directive, the EU enacted ambitions legislation that sought to gradually phase out all forms of tobacco advertising and sponsorships within the EU region in a span of 9 years.

This was the first EU directive on tobacco advertising and sponsorship. The complete ban on tobacco advertising was supposed to begin with a ban on billboards and in cinemas, followed by a ban on newspaper and magazine advertising, and finally a ban on advertising in sports venues. The total EU ban was expected to be in place by 2006.

However, the ambitious directive failed to get unanimous support as major tobacco companies and some member states contested against it. This eventually led to the legislation being reviewed by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after contention by players in the tobacco industry.

The first EU directive on tobacco advertising and sponsorship was annulled on October 2000 following the successful challenge by the tobacco industry (Gruning et al. 5). The judges in the European Court of Justice decided that the legislation was unlawful and therefore struck it down.

Council Recommendation 2003/ 54/ EC

A significant policy in the effort to prevent smoking in the EU is the Council Recommendation 2003/54/EC of 2 December 2002. This recommendation was aimed at encouraging EU member states to increase tobacco control. Emphasis was made on adopting strategies aimed at preventing tobacco use among the young population.

This emphasis was made due to the revelations that up to 90% of individuals started smoking before they reached the age of 18 (Giuseppe 48). This recommendation urges the EU member states to implement laws and measures aimed at preventing access of tobacco products to individuals under the age o18. In addition to this, the recommendation calls for greater restrictions to all forms of advertising of tobacco products.

Directive 2003/ 33/ EC

The new tobacco product directive implemented to replace the annulled directive 89/552/EEC was the Directive 2003/33/EC of 26 May 2003. This directive imposed an EU wide ban on the advertisement of tobacco products (Smith et al. 7). Specifically, the directive prohibited tobacco advertising in the press and printed media, and on the internet or by email.

The only form of advertisement permitted was publications intended exclusively for the tobacco trade. The directive also imposed restrictions on sponsorship and according to the directive, radio advertising of tobacco products is prohibited, and radio programmes may not be sponsored by tobacco companies.

Sponsorship of events involving several EU member states by tobacco companies was also prohibited and the distribution of free tobacco or promotional material during national sponsored events banned. All member states were required to comply with the directive by 2005 (Smith et al. 8). All members were expected to come up with penalties that would dissuade the tobacco industry from violating the terms of the directive.

The effectiveness of Directive 2003/33/EC was hampered since it failed to regulate indirect advertising. Specifically, the regulation did not regulate the use of non-tobacco products to promote tobacco brands. This weakness was exploited by tobacco companies, which replaced direct advertising with indirect advertising (Smith et al. 10).

In addition to this, this directive was week since it did not result in a complete ban on tobacco advertising. The industry is still able to advertise in cinemas and on billboards. In addition to this, tobacco advertisement can occur using merchandising. Tobacco companies are also permitted to sponsor events with participants coming from only one EU member state.

Directive 2010/ 13/ EU

This “Audiovisual Media Services Directive” imposes some regulations on the manner in which advertisements may occur through audiovisual products. This directive addresses a major setback in Directive 2003/33/EC namely indirect advertisement. The Directive prohibits audiovisual commercial communication that promotes tobacco usage by the viewers.

Following the implementation of Directive 2003/33/EC, the tobacco industry had used indirect forms of audiovisual commercial communication to circumvent the ban and therefore promote their product (Smith et al. 10).

The Directive closes this loophole by banning the use of indirect advertisement by the tobacco industry. The directive prohibits product placement of tobacco products in all audiovisual material circulated within the EU zone.

The Effect of Regulation in EU

The EU has recognized that tobacco products are exceptional and required additional regulation. The various directives and initiatives implemented by the EU to deal with tobacco consumption have had tremendous impact. The various policies and directives implemented have had significant positive outcomes in Europe. The trend in the EU has by the large been towards the achievement of a smoke-free Europe.

The European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy in 2011 declared that over the past decade, a clear trend towards smoke-free environments has been noted in some of the EU member states. In spite of the annulment of the directive 89/552/EEC, some countries still implemented their own legislation stimulated by this directive.

Supporters of the phased ban proposed by this directive such as the UK initiated their ban in December 1999. The UK government expedited the ban on print and billboard advertising on December 1999, which was two years before the EU ban would have come into effect (Giuseppe 45).

Increasing legislation by the EU has effectively discouraged new entrants in the European market. MarketLine Industry Profile reveals that due to advertising restrictions within EU member states, new entrants would find it increasingly difficult to establish a brand (14).

Due to advertising restriction, brand awareness is difficult to generate in the European tobacco market. The tobacco market has therefore continued to be dominated by the large players such as British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International and Imperial Tobacco Group.

The EU environment has taken significant steps to reduce the number of new smokers. Research indicates that most people begin smoking before reaching the age of 18. The EU has made significant steps towards preventing smoking among children and young people. Targeting this group is important for a number of reasons.

To the tobacco industry, the young market represents the future consumers of tobacco products (Berger-Walliser and Bird 1020). Introducing this group to tobacco ensures that the future growth in tobacco consumption is assured. For the European Health Forum, preventing this group from taking up smoking presents the most effective strategy of reducing tobacco use.

A number of strategies have been employed to discourage underage smoking. To begin with, Directive 2003/33/EC imposed a ban on the sale of tobacco to minors in all EU member states. Stiff penalties are imposed on any retailer who violates this legislation.

In addition to this, advertising to children is prohibited. In the latest move to discourage tobacco use, the European Parliament has approved a ban on flavored and menthol cigarettes. This ban, imposed in July 2013, aims to limit the appeal that cigarettes have to children and young people (MarketLine Industry Profile 17).

The EU has made use of health warnings to dissuade individuals from taking up smoking. Evidence reveals that health warnings can promote smoking cessation and discourage youth uptake (Giuseppe 210). The EU adheres to the “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” (FCTC) which is an international treaty devoted to public health. The union has therefore revised its labeling policies to meet the guidelines stipulated by the FCTC.

In response to the EU policies informed by the FCTC, Member States have imposed regulations on the mandatory health warnings to be displayed on each cigarette packet. There are laws that require tobacco packaging to describe the harmful effects of tobacco in large and clear print.

The effectiveness of package warning depends on factors such as size and the position of the warning text or image. The EU requires warnings to cover at least 30% of the principal display areas on each package.

Recommendations have also been made for pictorial warnings to be included. While it is not a mandatory requirement, the EU allows countries to use pictorial health warnings and actually has a list of recommended images that might be used for this purpose.

Research indicates that pictorial health warnings are highly effective in reducing consumption levels of tobacco products (Berger-Walliser and Bird 1020). This warnings increase motivation to quit and help former smokers to remain abstinent. They also have a discouraging effect on youth to start smoking.

The EU has been engaged in moves aimed at implementing plane-packaging regulations in Europe. This is in response to the proposals made by Article 11 of the FCTC. The FCTC encourages the adoption of plain packaging to achieve the desirable outcomes of reduced tobacco use. Plain packaging has the potential to encourage a less favorable assessment of people who smoke.

Berger-Walliser and Bird reveal that packaging leads to significant image factors with smokers who consume certain brands being rated as trendy, stylish and outgoing (1043). These positive attributes contribute to the favorable assessment of people who smoke. With the introduction of plain packaging, the brand elements and brand imagery will be removed.

Individual governments have played a major role in the implementation of the policies against tobacco advertisement. The reason for this is that bans on tobacco advertisement are considered a health and safety issue meaning that they fall within the realm of individual national governments in the EU.

The commitment of most EU states has led to the positive trend towards the achievement of a smoke-free Europe. However, there is still opposition from countries where the influence of the tobacco industry is still strong. Germany stands out as one of the few EU member states with strong opposition to stringent policies against tobacco.

Gruning et al. document that Germany has consistently employed weak tobacco control policies (6). The country also demonstrates strong opposed to the EU tobacco control legislation. This negative influence of Germany has slowed down the rate of change in tobacco control legislation. Even so, most governments have shown support for anti-tobacco legislations.

Opposition to EU Regulations

The tobacco industry has been the strongest opponent to any comprehensive ban on advertising. The industry asserts that advertising does not have any effect on aggregate consumption but rather affects the share of customers a particular brand is able to win over in the cigarette market. The tobacco industry has seen EU regulations as a major threat to the future growth and productivity of the industry.

The major companies in this industry have therefore engaged in activities aimed at preventing policies that are detrimental to the tobacco industry. Research by Smith et al. reveals that tobacco companies such as BAT have engaged in the promotion of IA in Europe as a measure to undermine anti-tobacco policies (3).

Secret tobacco industry documents made public through court orders have shown how transnational tobacco corporations have joined forces to counter policies that inhibit the industry. The strategies used by the tobacco corporations include influencing specific countries to undermine strong conventions against the tobacco industry.

Smith et al. observe that Germany was earmarked by the transnational tobacco corporations as one of the countries that would play a big role in undermining the effect of anti-tobacco policies including the strong Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (7). Gruning et al. confirm that the tobacco industry has made use of some EU member states to limit the EU mandate and therefore weaken the anti-tobacco legislation (21).

Germany has been lobbied by the tobacco industry to push against a comprehensive mandate on the issue of tobacco advertising. The country has played a part in the refusal to grant the EU more competences and therefore expand its mandate. Germany has been able to achieve some measurable success in this because of its considerable economic and political influence in the EU.

The European environment has witnessed a greater push for risk assessment and impact assessment. Before a major EU policy can be made, an impact assessment (IA) must be made. Ideally, IA as a tool for evaluating potential legislative changes ensures that policy decisions are more transparent, scientific, democratic, and rational.

Tobacco companies have pushed for more business-oriented impact assessments before policies can be implemented. This has benefited the companies since the IA often favor corporations. Smith et al. state, “The tobacco industry has already used IA commitments and the requirement for stakeholder consultation to actively challenge EU tobacco control legislation” (6).

The tobacco industry has overemphasized on the negative economic costs associated with anti-tobacco laws and used this argument as the grounds for weaker legislation. The tobacco industry has attempted to underplay the health impacts of its products while prioritizing business interests. This suggests that IA has been used to advance the interests of major corporation even at the expense of health.

Discussion and Conclusion

The European Union has established itself as a global frontrunner in tobacco control. This union has imposed some of the most stringent policies to deter tobacco use and therefore citizens in the member states from the harmful effects of tobacco use. From the information provided in this paper, it is clear that the EU has made significant strides against tobacco advertising.

There has been a marked reduction in advertisement and the tobacco industry’s growth has been protracted. The EU tobacco market has not witnessed any new entrant due to the advertising limitations imposed though the EU. The EU has therefore experienced a decline in consumption of tobacco over the years.

Even so, tobacco use is still a pressing concern for EU member states since tobacco consumption remains to be the leading contributor to disease and other chronic health problems. The EU environment has been characterized by intense opposition by the tobacco industry to some policies meant to reduce tobacco consumption in the EU region.

The paper has noted how tobacco lobbyists have influenced some member states to make their case against stringent measures. The opposition by the tobacco industry continues to be a challenge that must be addressed for a smoke-free Europe to be achieved.

Works Cited

Berger-Walliser, Gerlinde and Bird Robert. “The Impact of Plain Packaging Regulation on Illicit and Non-Illicit Tobacco Products in the European Union.” North Carolina Journal of International Law & Commercial Regulation 38.4 (2013): 1015-1060. Web.

Giuseppe, Torre. Smoking Prevention and Cessation. London: Springer Science & Business, 2013. Print.

Gruning, Thilo, Heide Weishaar, Jeff Collin and Gilmore Anna. “Tobacco industry attempts to influence and use the German government to undermine the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.” Tobacco Control 21.1 (2011): 1-47. Web.

MarketLine Industry Profile. Tobacco in Europe. London: Marketline, 2012. Print.

Smith, Katherine, Fooks Gary, Collin Jeff, Weishaar Heide, Sema Mandal and Gilmore Anna. “‘Working the System’—British American Tobacco’s Influence on the European Union Treaty and Its Implications for Policy: An Analysis of Internal Tobacco Industry Documents.” PLoS Medicine 7.1 (2010): 1-17. Web.

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