Packs of 10 cigarettes, considered popular among younger smokers, will also be banned.
Fourteen EU states already have 20 as the minimum, four stipulate a minimum of 19, and in the UK and Italy the minimum is 10.
Smaller than normal packs of roll your own tobacco will still be allowed under the new rules.
It was the European Parliament’s first reading of a draft tobacco directive which could become law in 2014. It would then take two more years to become law in each of the 28 EU member states.
There has been intense lobbying of MEPs by the tobacco industry and health campaigners.
The Commission says almost 700,000 Europeans die from smoking related illnesses each year equal to the population of Frankfurt or Palermo. The costs for healthcare in the EU are estimated to be at least 25.3bn euros ( 20.6bn $33.4bn) annually.
Conservative and Liberal MEPs welcomed the amendments made to the original proposal from Labour’s Linda McAvan.
Speaking to the BBC, Ms McAvan said she was disappointed that slim cigarettes were not banned.
But cigarette packaging made to look like lipstick or perfume containers attractive to girls will disappear, she noted.
There will now be further negotiations with the Council the grouping of relevant EU ministers. MEPs may manage to avoid a second vote and fast track the legislation so that it is adopted before the May 2014 European elections.
The proposals also include a ban on words like “light”, “mild” and “low tar”, deemed to be misleading, and a ban on oral tobacco called snus although Sweden would retain its exemption.
EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg called the vote “positive”. “I am confident that the revised Directive on Tobacco Products can still be adopted within the mandate of the current Parliament,” he said.
But Carl Schlyter MEP, health spokesman for the Greens, called it “a shameful day for the European Parliament, as a centre right majority, led by the EPP group, has done the bidding of the tobacco industry and voted for weaker rules”.
Eu regulations on e-cigarettes and tobacco
As lead MEP negotiator, I am writing to clarify the outline EU agreement on e cigarettes (Deal could lead to EU wide ban on refillable e cigarettes, 18 December). The agreement, backed yesterday by 27 of the EU’s 28 governments, plus the majority of MEP negotiators, does not mean that refillable e cigarettes can simply be withdrawn from the market if three governments so decide. The law does contain a safeguard clause which says that if three governments withdraw a product from the market for safety reasons (which have to be demonstrated), then the European commission can look at proposing an EU wide ban, but any action would again need to be signed off by all EU governments and MEPs. The draft law also rejects initial European commission proposals that all e cigarettes need a medicines licence instead they will be treated like tobacco products. The proposals on e cigarettes are only a small part of a much wider law which will mean big changes in tobacco regulation, paving the way for standardised or “plain” packaging in Britain. It will mean 65% of cigarette packs will be covered by graphic health warnings and the kind of gimmick cigarettes flavoured and lipstick packs designed to attract young smokers will be taken off the market. British Conservative MEPs are criticising the agreement, but these are the same MEPs who have tried all along to block progress. The law has the backing of major UK healthcare organisations and doctors, and when the vote comes in February for a final signoff in the European parliament, Labour MEPs will be giving it strong backing.
Linda McAvan MEP (Labour)
Rapporteur, EU tobacco products directive, European parliament