MEPs reject tough regulation of e-cigarettes

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MEPs have backed new proposals on regulating the sale and marketing of tobacco products - but have remained deeply divided on the details.

On 8 October 2013, MEPs debated revisions to the Tobacco Products Directive, designed to bring in larger health warnings on cigarette packages.

The Commission has proposed that 75% of the front and rear of packages be covered with a warning about the dangers of smoking.

However the centre-right EPP group tabled an amendment to reduce this to 50% - in the end the parliament backed a compromise agreement of 65%.

MEPs rejected a ban on "slim" cigarettes, but voted to ban menthol flavourings, after a transitional period of 8 years.

Opening the debate, the parliament's negotiator on the directive, British Labour MEP Linda McAvan said the World Health Organisation was reporting a "worrying" increase in the number of young smokers, and she attacked tobacco producers for making some packets look "gimmicky".

Speaking on behalf of the Council of Ministers, Lithuania's Health Minister Vytenis Andriukaitis said he "still could not forget the pain and suffering" of both of his brothers dying from smoking-related illnesses.

He said that around 700,000 people died every year from smoking, costing the EU more than €500bn every year.

Adopting the revisions to the directive was, he said, a "collective responsibility" of the European Parliament.

'Insidious' lobbying

The debate on the directive was postponed from last month, in a move that some MEPs say showed that the parliament was bowing to pressure from the tobacco lobby.

Italian socialist MEP Mario Pirillo accused the tobacco industry of engaging in "the most insidious and deceitful lobbying campaign".

However Polish conservative MEP Janusz Wojciechowski urged fellow MEPs "not to assume that those of us opposed to elements of this directive are doing the bidding of lobbyists."

He said there was no evidence that banning slim or menthol cigarettes would deter people from smoking, whilst his Polish colleague Marek Migalski warned of the impact on the directive on the economic livelihood of Europe's tobacco farmers.

E-cigarettes

A key element of the directive was new laws on controlling electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), which are not currently subject to any EU-wide regulation.

The Commission - supported by centre-left and left wing groups of the parliament - wanted to treat e-cigarettes as medicinal products, meaning they could only be sold by registered pharmacists.

However MEPs backed an amendment from the liberal, centre-right and conservative groups that said they should be subject to the same regulation as "normal" cigarettes, meaning they would be more widely available, but unable to be sold people under 18.

British Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies claimed e-cigarettes were a "game changer" in helping people quit tobacco cigarettes.

But German socialist MEP Dagmar Roth-Behrendt warned that their ease of availability could lure young people to taking up smoking.

A lengthy and complex series of votes took place at the daily voting session later in the day.

MEPs voted to postpone their final vote on the directive, to give the rapporteur more time to negotiate with national governments to reach a common position.

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The European Parliament's disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations can be found here.

Read Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work here.