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?