Cigarette Health Warnings on Packages to Grow Under EU Proposal

European Union regulators proposed stricter health warnings on cigarettes in the latest bid to curb smoking in Europe, where tobacco-related illnesses are estimated to kill one person every minute.

The European Commission drafted legislation to require that all cigarette packages feature a combined pictorial and text alert covering three-quarters of the front and back. Under current EU rules, anti-smoking images on packages are optional while text warnings are mandatory.

The commission, the 27-nation EU’s regulatory arm, also proposed to ban the sale of cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco with characterizing flavors. In addition, nicotine-containing products like electronic cigarettes would be curbed under the proposal, which needs the support of EU governments and the European Parliament to become law.

“Tobacco kills half of its users and is highly addictive,” EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said in a statement today in Brussels. “This proposal ensures that attractive packaging and flavorings are not used as a marketing strategy.”

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 the draft legislation as to make tobacco goods less attractive to young people.

Under the new proposal, which would revise a 2001 EU law, cigarette packages would also have to include an information message on the side that tobacco smoke contains more than 70 cancer-causing substances. A current EU ban on oral tobacco, along with an exemption for Sweden, would remain.

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