EU votes to ban menthol cigarettes and enlarge on-pack health warnings

The European Parliament has voted in a raft of measures to curb smoking amongst young people including banning flavoured cigarettes and proposing the area of cigarette packaging currently covered with health warnings should be increased.


European MPs backed a ban on menthol cigarettes and other flavours – so-called “gateways” to other tobacco products – but with an eight-year delay in a vote of the first reading of a new draft tobacco directive in Strasbourg today (8 October).

The proposals also include a ban on words such as “low tar”, “mild” and “light” on tobacco packs. Slim cigarettes, however, escaped a ban.

The group of MEPs from 28 nations also voted to increase the current minimum requirement for health warnings on cigarette packaging, from 30 per cent on one side and 40 per cent on the other, to 65 per cent on each side of packs.

While this is an increase, the decision will be welcomed by the tobacco industry as the European Commission had proposed graphic health warnings should cover 75 per cent of cigarette packets.

Packaging must also be big enough so the health warnings are clearly visible, the Commission says, which means cigarettes should come in packets of at least 20. The UK and Italian minimum is currently 10 cigarettes per pack.

Elsewhere, legislators also put new limits on the advertising of electronic cigarettes, but have rejected European Commission proposals calling for them to be regarded as medicines, like nicotine patches or gum. E-cigarettes are free to be marketed as a consumer product, but not as an aide to help people quit smoking, under the proposals.

Adrian Evertt, chief executive of e-cigarette brand E-Lites, says: “This is a fantastic result for public health and the millions of smokers around Europe who are switching to e-cigarettes. We would have been in the absurd position of the Department of Health making it much easier to make and sell tobacco cigarettes than e-cigarettes which are vastly less harmful.

“Following the European Parliament’s decision, we hope to work with the UK Government to agree a regulatory framework for e-cigarettes which reinforces the existing consumer protection regulations.”

The UK Government has already announced e-cigarettes will be licensed as medicines from 2016, which will affect the way in which they can be marketed to consumers. Earlier this month the UK advertising watchdog launched a crackdown into e-cigarette companies that did not make it clear enough in their marketing their products contain nicotine and are not available to consumers under the age of 18. 

The European Parliament, EU member states and the European Commission must now consider the plans with the aim of having the Tobacco Products Directive legislation passed before the May European elections next year.

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