MEPs tighten anti-tobacco laws aimed at young smokers


Linda McAvan MEP welcomed the crackdown on cigarette flavourings

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Euro MPs have voted to tighten tobacco regulations aimed at putting young people off smoking, but some measures do not go as far as originally planned.

They rejected a European Commission proposal to treat electronic cigarettes as medicinal products - a move that would have restricted sales.

They backed a ban on cigarette flavourings - but with a five-year delay in the case of menthol.

Slim cigarettes will not be banned. EU ministers must now consider the plans.

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

Linda McAvan, the Labour MEP steering the legislation, said 65% was still "a long way towards plain packaging".

The current requirement for health warnings is for 30% minimum coverage on one side and 40% on the other.


MEPs spent hours debating these proposals. One said: "Smoking kills, it's that simple", arguing for the tougher regulations. But some questioned whether the proposals would significantly reduce smoking rates. Others were concerned about job losses.

In the end this was a mixed result for health campaigners. No ban on slim cigarettes, a delayed ban for menthol, health warnings to cover 65% of the packet - as opposed to the 75% proposed.

On e-cigarettes, proposals to regulate them as medicines EU-wide were rejected. That might pose complications for the UK Government; the regulator there has already backed the tougher regulations. Before the vote, EU officials had complained loudly about tobacco lobbyists trying to get MEPs to water down the plans and, from today's evidence, it appears they were successful.

Still, this isn't the end game for the legislation. There will now be negotiations between the European Parliament and the EU member states to decide on the final laws.

Packs of 10 cigarettes, considered popular among younger smokers, will also be banned.

Fourteen EU states already have 20 as the minimum, four stipulate a minimum of 19, and in the UK and Italy the minimum is 10.

Smaller than normal packs of roll-your-own tobacco will still be allowed under the new rules.

It was the European Parliament's first reading of a draft tobacco directive which could become law in 2014. It would then take two more years to become law in each of the 28 EU member states.

There has been intense lobbying of MEPs by the tobacco industry and health campaigners.

The Commission says almost 700,000 Europeans die from smoking-related illnesses each year - equal to the population of Frankfurt or Palermo. The costs for healthcare in the EU are estimated to be at least 25.3bn euros (£20.6bn; $33.4bn) annually.

Mixed reactions

Conservative and Liberal MEPs welcomed the amendments made to the original proposal from Labour's Linda McAvan.

Speaking to the BBC, Ms McAvan said she was disappointed that slim cigarettes were not banned.

But cigarette packaging made to look like lipstick or perfume containers - attractive to girls - will disappear, she noted.

There will now be further negotiations with the Council - the grouping of relevant EU ministers. MEPs may manage to avoid a second vote and fast-track the legislation so that it is adopted before the May 2014 European elections.

The proposals also include a ban on words like "light", "mild" and "low tar", deemed to be misleading, and a ban on oral tobacco - called snus - although Sweden would retain its exemption.

EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg called the vote "positive". "I am confident that the revised Directive on Tobacco Products can still be adopted within the mandate of the current Parliament," he said.

But Carl Schlyter MEP, health spokesman for the Greens, called it "a shameful day for the European Parliament, as a centre-right majority, led by the EPP group, has done the bidding of the tobacco industry and voted for weaker rules".

BBC News asked a doctor and the owner of an e-cigarette shop in Paris for their views on the new law

Angela Harbutt of the pro-tobacco organisation Forest criticised the legislation, saying "prohibition doesn't work and products that are banned will almost certainly be available on the unregulated black market.

"Law-abiding consumers will be at a serious disadvantage and it won't help children because criminal gangs don't care who they sell to," she said.

E-cigarette controversy

The UK has already said e-cigarettes will be licensed as medicine from 2016.

Sales of the tobacco-free devices have boomed worldwide since bans on smoking in public places were introduced.

But campaigners say their growing popularity is dangerous.

They argue that e-cigarettes undermine years of anti-smoking efforts and could be especially damaging to children and non-smokers.

The devices are designed to replicate smoking behaviour without the use of tobacco. They turn nicotine and other chemicals into a vapour that is inhaled.

Manufacturers of e-cigarettes say the products have the potential to save millions of lives.

Anti-smoking campaigners say young people especially are being tricked into taking up smoking.

Prof Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says tobacco firms have simply extended their advertising techniques to e-cigarettes.

Commissioner Borg, presenting the proposals, said tobacco products "should look and taste like tobacco products".

In 2009‐10, sales of tobacco products generated nearly £9bn ($14.6bn; 11bn euros) in taxes for the UK government, about 2% of all receipts from taxation, a government report said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    Sugar is fattening and causes heart disease. Should we ban that as well? I'm all for the anti-cake lobby...but where does it stop?

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    I have a message for the anti-smoking lobby. Tobacco revenue is about £9bn a year. Treating smoking related illness costs about £1.5bn. There's a £7.5bn gap that you would need to fill. If everyone stopped smoking it would mean about £250 per year per income tax payer so maybe you should wind your necks in unless you fancy putting your hands in your sanctimonious pockets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    Will the EuroLeftyGreens ban my nickname? They love rules, regulations, directives or whatever to restrict freedom of the citizens,

    Greens are classified as Libertarians but they believe the right of the majority not to be subjected the consequences of smoking trumps the right of a minority to inflict it on the rest

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    This is getting truly ridiculous. We are all going to die of something, that's the condition of being alive in the first place. I would have more respect for self-styled "health" campaigners if they campaigned for greater safety, i,.e. using e-cigs. But oh no, these fundamentalists will only be satisfied when smokers are put in concentration camps and gassed to death!

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    Tobacco is carcinogenic and addictive. That is accepted - so why the hell is it still legal?

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    The government want e cigs sold as a medicine, but they was never invented to be that, the idea/use was about in the 60s.
    I use an e cig, just because it is an alternative. I enjoy it as I enjoyed a smoke, but its healthier and that's why I use one. I don't want to quit!
    Restricting them will just do the reverse. E cars are getting power points everywhere, but the arguments are the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    The tobacco and smokers lobby is in full force here. At least judging by the marked up comments!

    It seems the editor too is a smoker. Which is why he/she has selected pro-smoking comments as his/her picks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.


    "They argue that e-cigarettes undermine years of anti-smoking efforts"

    So they're just anti-smoking, even when it's not actually bad for you? The thing that bothers me is that when there's nowhere left for us naughty people to run around in, who will these people get off on by bossing about/

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    All politicians are like monkeys in a circus. Politics are Show business for ugly people. From time to time, they have to come up with something to piss people off. By doing that, these ADD freaks can get some attention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    As a smoker of cannabis and nicotine and also jobless, I am actually really starting to enjoy being the bond villain of the UK.

    Everyone hates me, nobody likes me, why dont I give a flying friday....

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    22: So your 'evidence' is that you personally don't know anyone who's been influenced by e-cigarettes. Oh well, case closed then! Silly argument.

    You then go on to try & mock health 'zealots'. Yes, those nasty people who want people to be healthy & not die of cancer.

    Comments like yours & the 67 people who +1ed it are truely bizarre. You're either tobacco industry shills &/or not very smart.

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    Smokers are a nuisance, and e-cigarettes do not change that fact!!!

    Moreover those who 'quit' smoking but continue with e-cigarettes have certainly not quit smoking. They have taken to alternative addiction! Expecting that others put up with it is sheer nonsense!

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    "How about, smoking is fine, but there will be no publicly-funded (i.e. NHS) treatment...?"

    As over-eating, having kids, taking drugs and playing dangerous sports are lifestyle choices (just as smoking is), will NHS treatment also be unavailable to those that choose those options?

    Surely they should be stopped first as those choices are not taxed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    when i am around my fathers place, the first thing that shoves itself into me is the stink of ciggie smoke, end up putting the breathing mask used on construction sites just to avoid the smoke. so call me one of those anti-smoker protestors having to grow up with that constantly getting in the way. wasnt the only one in the family that avoided what the parents love. if e-cigs work better, keep it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    "Good, I am fed up with people lighting their bonfires next to me, damn stink...."

    Let's take that to it's logical conclusion and just ban anything I don't particularly like. Unfortunately, in my case: that means you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    HA! They want to regulate e-Cigarettes because they might cause harm, yet they won't ban the sale of tobacco that positively KILLS!


    Money > Life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    Just to show how much faster private industry can move than the public sector.

    The EU bans packs of 10, and the manufacturers already have packs of 14 on the shelves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    Banning packs of ten? So children won't buy them... they are not supposed to be able to buy them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    Will the EuroLeftyGreens ban my nickname? They love rules, regulations, directives or whatever to restrict freedom of the citizens, making criminals of everyone of us. OK, time for a smoke now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    In my experience smokers tend to be people with no consideration for themselves and little for others. Probably because the addiction overrules any such scruples.

    I have no doubt the tobacco lobby has mobilised its forces on this HYS having been given enough warning. There are huge fortunes tied up in the tobacco industry.


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