Eu passes tough tobacco regulations, but stops short on e-cigarettes

European lawmakers approved sweeping new regulations governing the multibillion dollar tobacco market on Tuesday, including bigger health warnings on cigarette packs and a ban on menthol and other flavorings to further curb smoking. They stopped short, however, of tough limits on electronic cigarettes.

The European Parliament vote in Strasbourg, France came after months of bitter debate and an unusually strong lobbying campaign by the tobacco industry, which decries the regulations as disproportionate and say they limit consumer freedom. The Parliament dismissed many of the industry’s arguments, agreeing on a slightly watered down version of the proposed legislation.

The lawmakers voted to impose warning labels with the inclusion of gruesome pictures, for example showing cancer infested lungs covering 65 percent of cigarette packs and to be shown above the brand logo. Current warning labels cover only 30 to 40 percent of packages.

The legislature still must reach a compromise with the 28 EU governments on certain points before the rules can enter into force. Diplomats say a deal could be struck by the end of the year.

The new rules were viewed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and EU health officials as an important milestone but not the end of their quest to stop people from smoking and keep teens from ever picking up a cigarette.

Smoking bans in public places, limits on tobacco firms’ advertising, and other measures over the past decade have seen the number of smokers fall from an estimated 40 percent of the EU’s 500 million citizens to 28 percent now. Still, treatment of smoke related diseases costs about 25 billion euros ($34 billion) a year, and an estimated 700,000 smoking related deaths per year across the 28 nation bloc.

Legislators also voted for new limits on advertising for electronic cigarettes, but rejected a measure that would have restricted them to medical use only.

RELATED Attorneys General from 41 US states urge FDA to regulate e cigarettes

The battery operated products, which are widely popular in the United States and many European countries, turn nicotine into a vapor inhaled by the user and are often marketed as a less harmful alternative to tobacco.

Many health experts say e cigarettes are useful for people trying to quit or cut down on nicotine.

Armando Peruga, a tobacco control expert at WHO in Geneva, said regulating e cigarettes wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing and that WHO is currently evaluating their safety and effectiveness.

«We do think e cigarettes could be useful, but we need more information,» Peruga said. «We have not yet ruled them out. We do think they could be helpful for some smokers.»

Linda McAvan, a member of the European Parliament and Britain’s opposition Labor Party, said she expects tougher rules on electronic cigarettes down the line, and that most EU governments want to see them regulated.

«We want to make sure they aren’t marketed as gateway products for young people,» she said.

The European Parliament also voted to ban additives and flavorings like chocolate or vanilla, starting three years after the legislation will come into force, and menthol, five years after the legislation is in place.

Opponents argued fruity or other pleasant aromas entice novices to smoke. Lawmakers also banned small packages said to entice young smokers, but rejected a ban on slim cigarettes popular with women.

«We are not telling Europeans what to do, but we don’t want the industry to mislead the young,» McAvan stressed. «We want tobacco products that look and taste like tobacco. There won’t be any more lipstick or perfume style cigarettes packets,» she added.

Lobbying against the measure was led by Philip Morris International Inc., which owns several brands such as Marlboro and said the new legislation was «deeply flawed.» It condemned what it called «oversized graphic health warnings and pack standardization.»

The vote «failed to take into account the views of millions of EU citizens, including our employees, retailers, tobacco growers and adult consumers who will be impacted by these measures,» the company said in a statement.

Philip Morris, with $8.5 billion of sales and 12,500 employees in Europe, has also claimed the regulation could result in up to 175,000 job losses and lost tax revenues of 5 billion euros ($6.8 billion) per year.

Leftists broadly favored the new regulations, joined by many conservatives concerned about the costs of smoking related diseases to national health care systems. The package was adopted in a 560 92 vote with 32 abstentions.

Associated Press

Comment: the eu's insane mission to ban menthol cigarettes

The issue at stake was the committee&#39 s role in scrutinising important legislation before it is imposed on Britain by the regulation hungry European parliament. Desperate to progress the controversial tobacco products directive before the end of Ireland&#39 s six month presidency of the European Council, Soubry had requested waivers from the scrutiny committees in both Houses. The Lords agreed but the Commons scrutiny committee said no.

So what did Soubry do? She brazenly ignored their decision and travelled to Luxemburg where a meeting of health ministers on June 21st agreed, among other things, to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and increase the size of health warnings on all tobacco products throughout the European Union.

If passed by MEPs in September, the tobacco products directive will also prohibit smaller pouches of roll your own tobacco and severely restrict the shape and size of cigarette packets.

It beggars belief that any Conservative minister would support such severe regulations on a legal product, even one as controversial as tobacco. To allow the EU to impose them, whilst denying any scrutiny of the legislation in Westminster, invites ridicule and contempt.

For years some of us have warned that some public health campaigners and politicians will only be happy when the sale and consumption of tobacco is prohibited and smoking is made illegal. Clearly, we are on the road to prohibition when an entire category, menthol flavoured tobacco, is to be outlawed.

This and other regulations in the directive could have serious repercussions for British retailers, many of whom will struggle with the loss of business. If the products under threat are banned, some UK shops could see 20 per cent of their usual stock of tobacco removed from the shelves. How will they replace the revenue they earn from those products?

The impact of the legislation will also be felt by millions of law abiding consumers who will be denied the choice they once took for granted. Criminal gangs will of course be only too happy to meet demand on the black market, but that&#39 s another matter.

This week the smokers&#39 group Forest launched a new campaign that will give consumers and retailers in Britain a much needed voice against the latest EU Directive. It&#39 s called NoThankEU and it follows the successful Hands Off Our Packs campaign on plain packaging.

The campaign website has more information but here are five reasons to oppose the tobacco products directive

1. Have we learned nothing from history? Prohibition doesn&#39 t work.
2. Excessive regulation will deny consumers choice and drive them to the black market.
3. Criminal gangs will make a fortune manufacturing and selling prohibited products.
4. Don&#39 t let the EU impose an extreme regulatory agenda on UK consumers.
5. What next alcohol, sugary drinks, convenience food?

Meanwhile, Cash believes there has been a breach of the rules. I would put it a little stronger than that and I sincerely hope Soubry and the relevant civil servants are held to account.

But whether she survives as public health minister is neither here nor there. What matters is that no British parliament should meekly roll over when the European Union tries to impose on the UK legislation that strikes at the very heart of our mature, consumer friendly society.

That&#39 s the bigger picture and I hope that even non smokers might agree with that.

Simon Clark is director of the smokers lobby group Forest. He is also author of the Taking Liberties blog. To register your support for the campaign against the tobacco products directive, visit

The opinions in #39 s Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.