It was among the first, if not the very first organized protest, against proposals to tighten tobacco regulation in the 27 countries of the EU. Unveiled in December by the European Commission, the proposals include restrictions on the size and shape of tobacco products and on cross border sales.
European Confederation of Tobacco Retailers (CEDT) organizers said as many as 3500 tobacconists from around Europe travelled to Brussels to march to the Berlaymont complex that functions as the heart of the EU bureaucracy.
Giovanni Risso, the chairman of CEDT,said the march was organized to send a message to policymakers that EU-plans for tobacco threaten a retail sector with approximately 750,000 shops.
“A special thanks goes to the 1,500 Italian tobacco retailers, who came to demonstrate in this cold winter together with their European colleagues to show that our concerns are shared with 750,000 tobacconists throughout Europe”, he said.
In Germany alone, 25,000 jobs are on the line, said Rainer von Bötticher, president of the German National Federation of Tobacco Retailers (BTWE).
Pascal Montredon, president of the French chapter of CEDT said tobacco retailers in his country already face an existential crisis. “Since 2004 more than 6,000 of France’s 33,000 tobacco retailers have had to close their shops forever,” he said.
Commissioners propose removing marketing appeal of cigarettes by mandating 75 per cent of the front and back of packs be devoted to graphic warnings. Pack sizes of less than 20 cigarettes would be removed from the marketplace to ensure that warnings are of sufficient size. Products such as super-slim cigarettes would no longer be sold and popular e-cigarettes would be classified as medical products, taking them out of the realm of tobacconists in most of Europe.
Klaus W. Fischer, president of the Austrian VCPÖ association, said „tobacco-shops in Austria are mainly owned by handicapped persons. Therefore, Brussels is not only endangering the subsistence of families, but will also intensify the social problems of our handicapped.“