MEPs in the European Parliament’s Public Health Committee today voted to update the ten year old tobacco directive including provisions to ban the use of ‘characterising flavours’ (such as chocolate and menthol) and slim-style cigarettes which are designed to appeal to younger and/or female consumers to encourage them to take up smoking.
Apart from packaging and labelling, other provisions included ingredients, cross-border sales and traceability for the purposes of enforcing product safety standards.
Lib Dem European health spokeswoman Rebecca Taylor MEP welcomed the adoption of rules requiring that all cigarette packets in future should have health warnings covering at least 75% of the surface to make packaging far less appealing to consumers and discourage them from starting smoking. She said:
“One in two smokers dies as a direct result of their smoking and tobacco related diseases place a great burden on the NHS. Clear and visible health warnings on cigarette packets play a role in making tobacco less attractive, particularly to potential first time consumers, who are overwhelmingly young, as 94% of smokers start smoking before the age of 25.
“I also think it is right to ban menthol and slim cigarettes as they play a role in making tobacco attractive to consumers who might otherwise not take up smoking.”
However, Ms Taylor expressed regret that a clear majority of MEPs in the Committee (44 vs 27) voted to regulate electronic cigarettes as medicines, while rejecting (45 vs 25) an amendment supported by Liberal MEPs to regulate them as consumer products.
Chris Davies MEP, Lib Dem European environment spokesman, added:
“If we want to reduce smoking-related deaths then we must ensure that e-cigs are as readily available as tobacco cigarettes. Classifying e-cigarettes as a medicinal product potentially limits their availability for sale to pharmacies. That is the wrong thing to do.
“E-cigs are a potential game changer in the fight against tobacco because smokers find them enjoyable to use. They can help people break their addiction in a way that conventional nicotine replacement therapies will never do. They could save millions of lives.
“However, there is momentum for change building up, and a realistic propsect that today’s vote can be overturned when the issue comes before Parliament after the summer recess.”
The total value of the EU tobacco market at retail level (including taxes) was 136bn euros in 2010, of which excise duties are worth 79bn euros. Cigarettes make up by far the largest market share (89%).
Under the draft legislation approved by MEPs in Committee today, all cigarette packets should have health warnings covering at least 75% of the surface (up from 40% at present) as a disincentive to consumers and an attempt to reduce the 700,000 deaths from smoking every year in the EU. The Parliament as a whole will have a say on these proposals after the summer recess.