Eu moves to ban menthol cigarettes —

The European Parliament in Strasbourg voted on a raft of measures to help curb smoking but stopped short of introducing plain packaging for cigarettes and tobacco.

Legislators put new limits on advertising for electronic cigarettes but have so far rejected proposals for them to be regarded as medicinal products.

Menthol and other flavours will be banned from 2022 but there is to be no ban on packs of slim cigarettes.

MEPs voted to put health warnings on 65% of each cigarette pack, as opposed to the proposed 75%.

At present, warnings should cover at least 30% of the front and 40% of the back of cigarette packs, with a border surrounding them.

Today’s vote also includes a ban on words like «light», «mild» and «low tar» and a ban on oral tobacco although Sweden would retain its exemption.

Today marked the European Parliament’s first reading of the draft tobacco directive which could become law in 2014.

There will now be further negotiations with the Council the grouping of relevant EU ministers.

Health campaigners welcomed the news but British American Tobacco said the agreement went too far.

A spokesman said «We’ve always said that we support sensible, balanced regulation that takes into account all the people it will impact before being decided on and implemented.

«We have made it clear throughout this process that many of the proposals on the table were not proportionate, were unlikely to succeed in addressing public health objectives, and would lead to an increase in black market sales.

«Although there are clearly many differing opinions among MEPs when it comes to this directive, it appears as if some sensible modifications have been made.

«However, much of this directive remains disproportionate and could be in breach of European law.

«For example, health warnings covering more than half of the cigarette pack goes well beyond what is needed to fully inform consumers of the health risks and a ban on mentholated cigarettes will only increase the demand for black market goods.

«The weight of evidence shows that smokers of menthol cigarettes face no higher risk of tobacco related diseases than smokers of non menthol cigarettes, that they find it no more difficult to quit and that the availability of menthol cigarettes does not increase youth initiation of smoking.

«Banning menthol in cigarettes is not justifiable based on the available scientific evidence.»

On packaging, the spokesman said the firm «strongly opposed the standardisation of our products.

«No evidence has been presented to justify why it is deemed necessary to restrict the dimensions or colours of a package or the way in which it can be opened.»

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK has said it intends to make e cigarettes medicinal products but today’s decision could alter those plans.

An MHRA spokesman said «The UK Government’s position is that the public health priority of reducing the harms of smoking can best be achieved by the regulation of nicotine containing products (NCPs), including electronic cigarettes, under the medicines framework and supports the European Commission’s Tobacco Products Directive.»

Some campaigners had called for e cigarettes to be subjected to the same regulation as nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) such as patches and gum.

E cigarettes consist of a battery, a cartridge containing nicotine, a solution of propylene glycol or glycerine mixed with water, and an atomiser to turn the solution into a vapour.

Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies said after the vote «E cigs can be a game changer in the fight against smoking. Hundreds of former smokers have written to tell me that they have helped them give up cigarettes when nothing else worked.»

Conservative MEP Martin Callanan said «Forcing e cigs off the shelves would have been totally crazy.

«These are products that have helped countless people stop smoking more harmful cigarettes and yet some MEPs wanted to make them harder to manufacture than ordinary tobacco.»

Adrian Everett, chief executive of e cigarette brand E Lites, said «This is a fantastic result for public health and the millions of smokers around Europe who are switching to e cigarettes.

«We would have been in the absurd position of the Department of Health making it much easier to make and sell tobacco cigarettes than e cigarettes which are vastly less harmful.»

Tom Rolfe, president of the Skycig brand of e cigarettes said «Skycig welcome any regulations which will help us to ensure that under 18s cannot access electronic cigarettes and to ensure that all e cigarette companies must produce products of a high standard, in the same way that Skycig and other reputable e cigarette companies do.»

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said «We are pleased that MEPs recognised the importance of increasing the size of health warnings and that these will be placed at the top of the packs to make them more visible.

«Despite unprecedented levels of lobbying by the tobacco industry to undermine the directive it is gratifying that MEPs stood firm on many of the key measures.»

Angela Harbutt, campaigns manager of the smokers’ group Forest, said «Consumers will have mixed feelings.

«We welcome the fact that some products have been reprieved while menthol cigarettes have been given a stay of execution, but consumers are still angry that the EU is trying to restrict or ban products they have purchased and enjoyed for many years.

«Prohibition doesn’t work and products that are banned will almost certainly be available on the unregulated black market.»

Maura Gillespie, policy programme director at the British Heart Foundation, said «MEPs have missed an opportunity to make real inroads into curbing the number of young people taking up smoking.

«It’s positive news that cigarette warnings are getting substantially bigger but MEPs could and should have gone further.

«Research shows health warnings that take up 75% or more of a cigarette box are more effective at reducing the attractiveness of products among our young people.

«The ban on flavoured tobacco is also welcome but it’s extremely disappointing slim cigarettes have not been banned.

«They’re dangerous products often targeted at young women that can mislead people about the harms of smoking.

«Now it’s up to the UK Government to show they’re made of stronger stuff and introduce standardised packs, stripped of attractive branding, without delay.»

Europe split on plan to ban menthol and slim cigarettes

New rules being discussed by European Union ministers would ban menthol and slim cigarettes, a move intended to improve the health of Europeans but one that has divided it broadly along cold war lines.

Led by Poland, one of Europe’s biggest tobacco producers, a bloc of former communist countries is fighting a rearguard action against the measures, hoping at least to save slim cigarettes, which are popular with many smokers, often women.

The concern of the rule drafters is that slim cigarettes add an allure that attracts young women to smoking and that menthol cigarettes make it easier for young people of both sexes to start, and become hooked on, smoking.

But Poland stands to lose tobacco industry jobs and some politicians worry about seeming high handed to smokers, an estimated third of the population.

«It’s about freedom, to a large extent,» said Roza Grafin von Thun und Hohenstein, a centre right Polish member of the European Parliament.

Thun said she supported the health impulses behind the draft legislation but after listening to objections from voters at a meeting in Krakow she decided the rules should be relaxed. «People said, ‘When are you going to prohibit us from drinking wine or vodka, or stop us using white sugar? Maybe you will also tell us to go to bed early because going to bed late is also unhealthy’.»

The proposed rules, due to be discussed by ministers yesterday, would also require that pictures of smoking related medical problems and written health warnings cover 75 per cent of the front and back of cigarette packs. This provision may be scaled back after haggling among health ministers who will be debating the rules in Brussels. Any new regulations would require the approval of the European Parliament before becoming law.

Tobacco has been a troublesome issue for the European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission, which has run public health campaigns to cut smoking but only recently removed direct agricultural subsidies for growing tobacco.

The commission came up with the proposed rules in December. They are supported by Ireland, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency and they would save lives and money.

«Approximately 700,000 Europeans die every single year of tobacco related causes,» Ireland’s health minister, James Reilly, said in a speech this year. «Smoking is the largest avoidable health risk in Europe, causing more problems than alcohol, drug abuse and obesity.»

The annual public health care cost attached to smoking in Europe was estimated at 25.3 billion (HK$260 billion), Reilly said. He cited recent studies showing 70 per cent of smokers began their habit before age 18.

Menthol brands make up 18 per cent of Polish consumption.