The European Parliament scaled back plans for more stringent regulation of the tobacco industry, setting up a clash with national governments over draft legislation meant to curb smoking in Europe.
The European Union assembly rejected a proposal to regulate nicotine-containing goods like electronic cigarettes as medicines, opting instead to apply rules on general product safety. As part of a plan to ban the sale of cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco with characterizing flavors, the 28-nation Parliament also voted to phase out menthol cigarettes over eight years rather than three years agreed by EU governments.
The Parliament today in Strasbourg, France, endorsed two central positions of governments on the draft law: requirements that cigarette packages feature a combined pictorial and text alert covering 65 percent of the front and back and that the health warnings appear at the top of the packs. Under current EU rules, anti-smoking images on packages are optional while text warnings are mandatory.
The stance by the EU’s only directly elected institution follows months of industry lobbying over the latest bid to prevent young people from starting to smoke in Europe, where tobacco-related illnesses are estimated to kill one person every minute.
The 766-seat Parliament’s position also comes after an agreement reached among EU governments in June, six months after the draft law was proposed by the European Commission, the bloc’s Brussels-based regulatory arm. The differences between the Parliament and national governments must be resolved in negotiations that both sides aim to complete by May 2014, when the assembly holds elections on a new five-year legislative term.
Tobacco kills as many as 695,000 people a year in the EU, or one person every 45 seconds, according to the commission, which says a third of Europeans still smoke. Smoking is the largest avoidable health risk in Europe, causing more problems than alcohol, drugs, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or obesity, according to the commission.
Cancers as well as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases are linked to tobacco use. Saying that 70 percent of smokers start before the age of 18, the commission described the goal of its draft legislation as to make tobacco goods less attractive to young people.
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