EU set to subsidise tobacco as countries tackle smoking

February 03 2013

Tobacco growers
Tobacco growers

Members of the European Parliament have paved the way for hundreds of millions of euros in subsidies to go to Europe’s tobacco farmers – even though Brussels spends huge amounts on anti-smoking campaigns.

Tobacco growers could get extra cash as soon as next year after MEPs voted to amend changes in the Common Agricultural Policy.

The vote would allow member states to decide which crops receive European Union farming subsidies.

That could see countries such as Bulgaria, Poland and Greece giving huge sums to their tobacco growers.

Critics have already argued that the proposed changes to the subsidy system will see a return to the notorious “butter mountains” and “wine lakes”.

Now they may result in a return to the subsidising of the multi-billion-euro cigarette industry as well.

Owen Paterson, Britain’s environment secretary, said: “Subsidising Greek and Bulgarian tobacco growers is clearly wrong. Not only would it take us back to the dark days of skewing the basic laws of supply and demand, it would also spend British taxpayers’ money on a product that is of absolutely no benefit to our society. I’m fighting hard to stop subsidies being linked to production like this again.”

When the old system was scrapped in 2004, tobacco farmers in 12 EU countries received €300m in subsidies. The scrapping of the subsidy prompted a decline in tobacco farming across the EU, which producers will now hope to reverse.

Tobacco growers have looked for ways to diversify and find uses – other than the manufacture of cigarettes – for the crop. Bulgaria’s Tobacco and Tobacco Products Institute has even manufactured a new perfume called Tobacco and Roses, which it hopes will be a big success.

The “eau de parfum” comes in a presentational box bearing a photograph of three smouldering cigars intertwined with three red roses. The reality, however, is that tobacco as a fragrance is unlikely to supersede cigarettes as the main use of the crop.

The move by MEPs on the European Parliament agriculture committee that would reintroduce the tobacco subsidy comes despite a €31m campaign being run by the European Commission to encourage smokers to give up cigarettes. Officials said that the initiative is helping hundreds of thousands of people to give up the habit.

Edward Malnick and Robert Mendick in Bulgaria

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