European ministers agree to stricter tobacco laws — nytimes.com

LONDON Cigarette packs in Europe would have to carry bigger health warnings, and cigarettes with menthol or other flavorings face a total ban, under an agreement that European Union ministers struck on Friday after spirited negotiations.

A small group led by Poland won a reprieve for slim cigarettes, which are popular among female voters in several formerly Communist nations and had also been considered for a ban.

The agreement is not the final decision, as the new tobacco rules require approval by the European Parliament before being put into effect. But the compromise was a milestone because it secured the support of national governments, including some that had fought hard to soften measures opposed by the tobacco industry and some smoker advocacy groups.

The measures reflect a concerted effort by European policy makers to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco to young people in hopes of preventing them from taking up a habit notoriously hard to kick. Cigarettes with menthol and other flavorings are considered easier for novices to smoke.

Under the deal, a health warning combining pictures and text must cover 65 percent of the front and back of all cigarette packs. That represents a reduction from the proposal going into the meeting of a 75 percent minimum, but it is an increase from the current 40 percent figure.

James Reilly, the health minister of Ireland, which holds the European Union s rotating presidency, said at a news conference in Luxembourg that about 700,000 Europeans die every year of tobacco related causes and that smoking is one of the greatest preventable and avoidable threats to health. Packaging that appeals to younger smokers, he said, was tantamount to entrapment of our young people.

The health ministers also agreed on regulation of electronic cigarettes, requiring authorization by relevant agencies in the member states before exceeding a certain nicotine threshold.

Currently, only some of the European Union nations apply such restrictions on electronic cigarettes, which produce vapors from a nicotine liquid rather than burning tobacco. But Tonio Borg, the European commissioner in charge of health and consumer policy, said e cigarettes can give a false sense of security.

The debate over flavored cigarettes mirrors a longstanding discussion in the United States. In 2009, Congress passed a law prohibiting flavorings but exempted menthol after heavy lobbying by the tobacco industry. Although Congress gave the Food and Drug Administration the authority to ban menthol if this was deemed appropriate on health grounds, the F.D.A. has taken no action.

In Europe, a ban on menthol cigarettes would not go into effect for some time. National governments would have up to three years to carry out the rules after the new tobacco law came into force. And the rollout of the new law itself, if finally approved later this year, could take about 18 months, Mr. Borg said.

Slim cigarettes, which were exempted from the compromise on Friday, had been a target because of the fear that they attract young women to smoking.

Though slim cigarettes would still be legal, new packaging and health warning requirements would prevent their sale in the small packs in which they are currently sold. Tobacco should look like tobacco and not like a perfume or a candy, Mr. Borg said. And it should taste like tobacco.

In light of the compromises, antismoking campaigners expressed disappointment that the larger pictorial warnings were not made mandatory on all cigarette packs.

Florence Berteletti Kemp, director of the Smoke Free Partnership, a European organization that promotes tobacco control and research, described the outcome on Friday as disappointing.

Despite the formidable efforts of the Irish presidency, the agreement adopted goes against key measures such as large pictorial warnings, which cost nothing to governments but would better protect millions of European children, she said in a statement. It is outrageous to see so many concessions made to an industry that buys its wealth and influence by marketing a deadly product.

European officials mull ban on all e-cigarettes

BLACKBURN, United Kingdom The days of electronic cigarettes could be numbered if proposals from the European Commission that would effectively take all current e cigarettes off the market move forward.

According to documents obtained by Totally Wicked Ltd., an electronic cigarette company based in the United Kingdom, the European Commission drafted proposals as part of the negotiations taking place in Brussels, Belgium, to revise the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). Among other things, the commission proposes a ban on all refill liquids, a ban on refillable atomizers, a ban on almost all flavors, and restrictions on nicotine levels.

«Behind closed doors in Brussels, unaccountable and unelected bureaucrats are drafting proposals that will deny millions of existing and former smokers access to a safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes,» said Fraser Cropper, CEO of Totally Wicked. «These proposals are based on a total lack of knowledge of how an electronic cigarette functions and, more importantly, these proposals are being drafted without any consultation with the people who rely on these products to prevent them returning to tobacco cigarettes.»

Taken together, according to the company, these proposals represent a ban on all currently available e cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes have been the subject of debate in the European Union lately. In early October, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted against regulating e cigarettes as medicines. Instead, e cigarettes will be regulated along the same lines as tobacco products.

In June, the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said it will treat e cigarettes as medicines, «so that people using these products have the confidence they are safe, are of the right quality and work.» The agency will regulate other products containing nicotine in a similar fashion however, cigarettes are exempt from the rule, as CSNews Online previously reported.

Health officials and the e cigarette industry in the United Kingdom are now seeking to clarify what the European Parliament’s moves mean.