European union ministers back ban on menthol cigarettes

By Agence France Presse
Friday, June 21, 2013 17 30 EST

European Union health ministers on Friday approved plans to ban menthol and other flavoured cigarettes as part of a crackdown on youth smoking.

But the ministers reduced the size of mandatory health warnings on packages, including pictures of diseased organs, and they stopped short of banning «slim» cigarettes.

The proposed legislation must now be voted on by the European parliament. If they approve the law it could be in force across the 27 nation bloc within three years.

Irish Health Minister James Reilly, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said it was a «a huge step forward in the fight against tobacco use».

«We cannot have a situation where we have a product that kills 700,000 Europeans every year looking to replace those customers with children, because that’s where the advertising is focused,» he said.

The health ministers backed the plans despite objections from some countries that they would have a negative economic effect, an argument strongly backed by tobacco companies.

EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, himself a former smoker, said he believed the ban could be in place within three years, providing that it is passed by European MPs.

The proposed legislation was released in December by the European Commission the executive arm of the EU and has since been under consideration by the bloc’s ministers.

The health ministers meeting on Friday agreed a ban on tobacco products with a «characterising flavour» other than tobacco, for example fruit or menthol, which are particularly believed to target the young, according to a statement from the Irish presidency.

They also agreed to force tobacco companies to cover 65 percent of cigarette packets with written health warnings and gruesome pictures of diseased body parts.

But that figure is down from the 75 percent of packaging that was proposed in December.

One person involved in the negotiations however pointed out that it was an improvement from the current level of 40 percent.

Britain meanwhile secured the possibility for individual EU states to insist on plain packaging.

The ministers agreed on minimum packaging including a ban on «lipstick style» packs popular with young people, it said.

Image «Closeup Portrait Of Handsome Smoking Young Man» via Shutterstock

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European politicians back tougher anti-tobacco rules

New law to take effect from 2016

Health campaigners say industry lobby weakened the law

Final endorsement from member states expected in March

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Feb 26 (Reuters) EU politicians voted for a new anti tobacco law on Wednesday that forces cigarette makers to increase the size of health warnings on packets and for the first time regulates electronic cigarettes.

Campaigners say the vote marked a turning point for public health, but that intensive industry lobbying had reduced the impact of a law designed to tackle an estimated 700,000 tobacco related deaths in Europe every year.

Following Wednesday’s plenary vote at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, ministers from EU member states are expected to give the law final endorsement next month, although it will only start taking effect from 2016.

Cigarettes and other products will have to carry graphic picture and text warnings covering 65 percent of the front and back of packets.

Countries contemplating bans on all cigarette branding, such as Britain and Ireland, will be able to introduce plain packaging if they wish.

The rules also include a ban on smoking tobacco products containing flavours such as fruit or vanilla. Menthol cigarettes will be banned from 2020, after some governments demanded a slower phase out.

«By ensuring that tobacco products look and taste like tobacco products, the new rules will help to reduce the number of people who start smoking in the EU,» European Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said in a statement.

EU diplomats had endorsed the deal in December after striking an agreement on how tightly to regulate the market for e cigarettes, which some analysts say could eclipse the $700 billion a year market for ordinary cigarettes in 10 years.

MARKET OF THE FUTURE?

Big tobacco firms, including Philip Morris owner Altria , British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco have all moved into the sector to offset declining cigarette sales, particularly in developed countries.

E cigarettes are meant to help smokers give up conventional cigarettes, but the Commission says the long term effects on health are not yet clear, hence the need for regulation.

In addition to respecting packaging and advertising rules, e cigarette makers will have to notify member state governments before putting new products on the market and report annually on sales volumes.

Campaigners said the new requirements would make it harder for companies to use misleading marketing to attract customers, but some voiced concern about the impact of the industry lobby.

The original proposal from the European Commission, the EU executive, was weakened over the course of negotiations, making the size of the health warnings smaller than planned and a phase in period was introduced.

«Overall, the final outcome is an improvement compared to the existing rules, but considering the deadly impacts of smoking, much more could and should have been achieved,» Olivier Hoedeman, research and campaigns coordinator at Corporate Europe Observatory, a Brussels corruption watchdog said.

The Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers in a statement said it had openly contributed to the debate over the last two years.

It said many of the measures were disproportionate and unlikely to achieve their ends. «They will more likely lead to a rise in profits for criminal gangs, who sell much cheaper, unregulated products,» the confederation’s Chairman Michiel Reerink said.