Saturday, March 06, 2010

Minimum pricing—absolutely illegal

(nb. I am not the Devil's Kitchen)

So. Three cheers for the EU, then?
Cigarette price-fixing infringes EU law

The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that Irish legislation fixing a minimum retail price for cigarettes infringes EU law.

The legislation here breaches Directive 95/59 which has rules on excise duty affecting the consumption of tobacco products.

Which goes to prove what many, many people have long been saying—minimum pricing is illegal under EU law. That applies to alcohol just as much as cigarettes, so why does Don Shenker, Nicola Sturgeon and Janet-fucking-Street-fucking-Porter keep flogging this dead horse?

It falls to the evil drinks industry to state the obvious:
Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “Given this latest evidence, the Scottish government must now recognise the legal realities. It cannot introduce a trade barrier in breach of the UK’s European obligations by imposing minimum pricing on alcohol in Scotland.”

And it falls to the evil tobacco industry to point out that the real effect of raising cigarette prices is that cheaper tabs become more widely available:
In a statement, cigarette manufacturer PJ Carroll welcomed the ruling saying: "The reality is the set minimum price for cigarettes has become irrelevant. Packs of cigarettes are being purchased up and down the country for as little as €3.50 on the black market. This is under half the current minimum price of €7.75."

Don't believe him? Check here, here and here.

The reaction from anti-smoking campaigners is classic fingers-in-the-ears stuff:
Anti-smoking group ASH also said it was concerned with the ruling.

Dr Angie Brown, ASH, said: "We will be in contact with the government on this vitally important matter."

Lucky old government. I bet they can't wait for you swivel-eyed lunatics to start bitching about the price of cigarettes again. Between me and you, Angie, the government's getting a bit tired of your bare-faced lies, which might explain why they told you to fuck off last time you came a-calling. Besides which, it should now be obvious that the Irish government has its hands tied on this matter. 
The Irish Cancer Society said the Government must take steps to guard against below-cost selling on cigarettes.

Do try to keep up, Irish Cancer Society. That is exactly what the EU says you cannot do. 
“First, they must continue to maintain high prices by increasing tax on cigarettes and loose tobacco,” head of advocacy with the society Kathleen O’Meara said. “Second, they must bring in legislation immediately to prohibit tobacco manufacturers from selling tobacco products at a loss.”

Are you lot simple or something? Even if cigarettes are being sold at a loss—which they're not—national governments have been explicitly forbidden from doing anything about it. It's EU law. You remember the EU, don't you? You inflicted its Constitution on us recently, so suck it up.

Now that the EU has made its position clear (again), can we drop the idea of minimum pricing for booze? Apparently not...
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “We have already made clear that this long-running case concerns tobacco and a specific directive on tobacco. It does not relate to minimum pricing for alcohol. We consider that the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol is capable of complying with European law.”

I think you're missing the point of the EU here, petal. It's not that they want people to smoke and drink—far from it—it's just that they view independent action by member states in the same way as the Scottish government views independent action by individuals, ie. with utter contempt. And while alcohol does not fall under Directive 95/59, it certainly falls under Article 28...
... which states that restrictions on imports and all measures having equivalent effect shall be prohibited between member states.

And the European Commission has made it pretty clear that it will not tolerate minimum pricing for alcohol:
The Court of Justice of the European Communities (“the Court”) has ruled that national rules fixing retail prices for alcoholic beverages could constitute measures having an equivalent effect to quantitative restrictions on imports contrary to Article 28 EC. This would be the case if, for example, prices were set at such a level that imported products were placed at a disadvantage in relation to identical domestic products.

Which, by definition, they would be. So please can we stop all this now?


Mr Eugenides said...

"Irish Cancer Society"?

Should that not be, y'know, "Irish Anti-cancer Society"?

Stupid Irish.

Scott said...

I'm guessing you mean Art 34 of the amended treaty?

Lisbon affects the numbering.

john in cheshire said...

It's ironic that an anti-democratic entity like the EU should in this instance be upholding something that would be common-sense in any normal situation.

Anonymous said...

There is actually a comparatively simple way to fix a minimum price: slap on even more fucking tax.

Roger Thornhill said...

Why is it our "representatives" only seem to want to take on the EU when it is NOT in our interests?

It is like being in a Police cell undergoing a "bad cop - bad cop" routine.

Anonymous said...

Just buy your fags and backy in the EU .
Simples .
All of us smokers do who are not on the statistical estimate ,as smokers.

How many smokers ?
Well estimates are based on "legitimate sales within the UK".
22 % of the adult population still smoke according to that estimate.
More than that.
Why ?
Because the ban has given the false impression that less people smoke.
The high taxation has led to the impression that less people smoke.
They buy smuggled or abroad.
Out of sight out of mind.
The reality is different.
Some people hide the fact they smoke now.
As the yanks say.
Go figure .

Rob said...

I remember at school ten years ago (back in the day) when 10 club only cost you only £1.55.

Simon Jester said...

(Be interesting to see whether AnE posts castigating the EU.)

The big problem is that although today the EU is prohibiting minimum pricing on tobacco and alcohol, tomorrow they may decide to mandate it. Their entire philosphy is that anything that isn't banned, must be mandatory.

It wouldn't be the first time they've switched 180 degrees like this: during the 80s, they tried to make animal testing mandatory for all cosmetics, while during the 90s they tried to ban all animal testing of cosmetics, for example.

BTW, I don't see how setting minimum prices for alcohol would necessarily place imported products at a disadvantage in relation to identical domestic products. Provided that the identical products (domestic or imported) had the same levels of tax imposed, the government (and their catamites in the pressure groups) would argue that Article 28 EC was not infringed.

Dave H said...

The Nicola Sturgeon link takes you to an article containing the following cliché:

"The Government will today publish academic research it has commissioned..."

Yeah, and we all know what that means. Much the same as 'following a public consultation exercise, the Government has decided..."

I would dearly love to write Fuck Off! On my ballot paper. It wouldn't count for anything, but it is just how I feel.

liamascorcaigh said...

""Irish Cancer Society"? Should that not be, y'know, "Irish Anti-cancer Society"? Stupid Irish."

You have created a strawman called the 'Irish Pro-Cancer Society' and then denounced it so as to give vent to some jolly old Hibernophobia. You were encouraged in this no doubt by Filthy Smoker's idiotic jibe that the Irish "inflicted [the Lisbon Treaty] on the rest of us". Ireland in fact was the last domino to fall and the only country to say No.

As we all know quite well, it was the political class right across the EU who imposed this boondoggle by refusing to allow referenda on the matter in the other 25 countries.

The British, who would surely have voted an overwhelming No, as the Irish did initially, and killed the project stone dead, acquiesced in the denial of their democratic rights, despite an explicit promise to the contrary, with astonishing docility.

In the EU we are all serfs together and hapless finger-pointing only underlines our servility.

Ian said...

Yes, the government ought to increase the tax. That why packs of cigs are being sold a half price on the black market.

And because cigs are hardly cocaine, heroin or any of the other 'bad' drugs, the police don't give a toss about whether people buy them illegally.

Anonymous said...

minimum pricing affecting imports: i export to UK. i am willing to take £1 profit on my product. i produce my product for £2. I figure i can sell it competitvely at £3 only, and still make my acceptable profit in the UK. But then the UK brings in a £2.50 minimum price. Now i'm fucked. Thats why its ilegal. The simple way to avoid this is to increase tax. This will raise the price as the tobacco company must have a certain profit margin, otherwise they woud simply just put their money in a bank and gain interest. This is not the victory you think it is.

Anonymous said...

Does this affect the minimum price of labour? Can we finally scrap that destructive minimum wage?

Anonymous said...

Only if we scrap living off benefits without being properly disabled or properly unable to work.

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Sam Duncan said...

What Simon J. said. So it's illegal. Big deal. They'll just make it legal. Then, no doubt, mandatory.

The state is not your friend. Even - no, especially - when it behaves like one.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"Dr Angie Brown, ASH, said: "We will be in contact with the government on this vitally important matter."

Which government do they mean, I wonder?

If it's the Westminster lot, then they seem to have misunderstood the whole business.

Peoples - it's the government - the supreme government - the one in Brussels - that's doing this. You can't remove them; they are not elected; you weren't given a referendum on the matter. You're shafted. Get used to it.

@Anon 9:42 - yes indeed, buy in the EU, that's exactly the intention. Did you notice that the EU includes the UK?

Gobshite said...

They may not be legally able to enforce a minimum price, but they can jack the fuck out of the taxes and duty on fags.

If you only leave a small portion of the retail price left for profit, you are unlikely to see Andorran prices here any time soon.