Tougher Cigarette Health Warnings Supported by EU Governments

European Union governments approved 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.

EU health ministers endorsed draft legislation to require that cigarette packages 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.

At a meeting today in Luxembourg, the ministers also agreed to ban the sale of cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco with characterizing flavors such as menthol. In addition, nicotine-containing products like electronic cigarettes would be regulated under the new rules, which also need the support of the European Parliament to become law.

“Smoking is one of the greatest avoidable, preventable threats to people’s health,” Irish Health Minister James Reilly told reporters after the agreement. Reilly chaired the Luxembourg meeting and brokered the accord because Ireland holds the 27-nation EU’s rotating presidency.

Tobacco kills as many as 695,000 people a year in the EU, or one person every 45 seconds, according to the European Commission, the bloc’s regulatory arm, 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 Brussels-based commission, which proposed stricter rules in December.

Respiratory Diseases

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 six months ago as to make tobacco goods less attractive to young people.

Under today’s ministerial accord, which would revise a 2001 EU law, cigarette packages would also have to include an information message 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.

The ministerial deal on the provision relating to the combined pictorial and text alert on packages scaled back the commission proposal. The commission had wanted three-quarters of the front and back of packages to be covered.

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