The European Union expanded warnings on cigarette packages and banned tobacco flavorings in the latest EU push to get smokers to kick a habit that kills one of them every minute.
The European Parliament voted to require that cigarette packs feature a combined pictorial and text alert covering 65 percent of the front and back. Under current EU rules, anti-smoking images on packages are optional while text warnings are mandatory.
The 28-nation EU assembly also decided to prohibit cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco with characterizing flavors including menthol, which will be phased out by 2020. The new law also takes aim at electronic cigarettes, the strongest of which will need authorization as a medicine. E-cigarettes deliver nicotine through inhaled vapor.
“The new measures are a big step forward for tobacco control and will help to prevent the next generation of smokers from being recruited,” Linda McAvan, a U.K. member who steered the legislation through the 766-seat assembly, said today in Strasbourg, France. EU governments have already signaled support for the law, making their final approval scheduled for March 14 a formality.
Tobacco kills as many as 695,000 people a year in the EU, or one person every 45 seconds, according to the European 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, the EU’s regulatory arm, which proposed tougher rules in December 2012.
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 proposal as to make tobacco goods less attractive to young people.
Under the new legislation, which will replace a 2001 EU tobacco law, the health warnings will have to appear at the top of packages. In addition, the packs will have to include an information message that tobacco smoke contains more than 70 cancer-causing substances.
While slim cigarettes will be allowed to remain on the market, lipstick-style packages will be prohibited.
Philip Morris International Inc., the world’s largest publicly traded tobacco company, said the new law is excessive.
The legislation “represents a worrying departure from the EU’s basic standards of proportionate, evidenced-based policy-making,” the New York-based company said in a statement.
The treatment of e-cigarettes threatened to derail the new law because the EU Parliament had voted against a plan, proposed by the commission and endorsed by the bloc’s health ministers, to regulate these goods as medicines. The Parliament argued that e-cigarettes help curb tobacco smoking and deserve a lighter regulatory touch.
Cigarette manufacturers including British American Tobacco Plc and Imperial Tobacco Group Plc have entered the e-cigarette market as more smokers switch to alternative products to consume nicotine.
Global sales of e-cigarettes will likely break $5 billion this year, according to Euromonitor International Ltd. A “base-case” scenario by Bloomberg Industries pegs worldwide e-cigarette sales at $2.3 trillion by 2050, or 41 percent of all cigarette sales.
Negotiators for the EU Parliament and bloc’s national governments struck a compromise over e-cigarettes in December, deciding that only those with a nicotine strength of more than 20 milligrams per milliliter will be regulated under a 2001 EU law on medicinal products.
E-cigarettes that are below the threshold will fall under the new EU tobacco legislation unless the manufacturer specifically opts to seek authorization of them from member states as a medicine.
“I want to encourage the potential benefits that e-cigarettes offer regular smokers in terms of harm reduction,” McAvan said. “The best way of doing this is guaranteeing smokers access to products they can trust.”