European tobacco industry granted last-minute reprieve on new rules intended to restrict cigarette sales following theft of evidence supporting new regulations

LONDON , October 26, 2012 () – The tobacco industry has been granted a last-minute reprieve after tough new rules intended to restrict cigarette sales were derailed by a series of curious incidents in Brussels.

Health experts and tobacco control activists were on the brink of victory against the industry earlier this month as a new Tobacco Products Directive was expected to be adopted by the European Commission.

But campaigners have been left stunned after the enforced resignation of the commissioner John Dalli and a robbery in which laptops and documents containing the evidence supporting the new regulations were stolen.

Two of Britain's leading public health experts today call on European legislatures to press ahead with the directive. Writing in The Lancet, Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Paul Belcher, from the Royal College of Physicians, argue that any delay of the directive would hand the tobacco industry another victory.

The revised directive was expected to ban a range of flavourings, standardise the width, length, and colour of cigarettes, limit displays at point of sale and require larger graphic warnings on packs. But two weeks ago, Mr Dalli was forced to resign amid allegations he took no action to stop an alleged bribe. Mr Dalli denies having any knowledge of this alleged impropriety.

Two day after his resignation, burglars accessed the offices of two anti-tobacco and public health organisations in Brussels.

Laptops and documents were stolen containing all the evidence used to support the directive. Professor McKee said: "While the truth about these events will emerge eventually, it may be too late for the revised Tobacco Directive."

(c) 2012 Independent News and Media Limited

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