EU lawmakers approve new anti-smoking bill

STRASBOURG, France - European lawmakers Tuesday, October 8, approved a long-fought and divisive anti-smoking bill aimed at making cigarettes less attractive to youngsters but threw out a bid to curb sales of increasingly popular e-cigarettes.

After intensive lobbying from the relatively new e-cigarette industry, the European Parliament refused to classify them as medicinal products, which would have restricted their sale to pharmacies.

Electronic cigarettes, which are booming worldwide, will therefore continue to be available in tobacco shops or specialist stores, with the exception of any brands claiming curative properties.

They will also be banned for sale to minors and no advertising allowed.

With 70 percent of smokers starting before 18, and 94 percent before the age of 25, the new legislation aims especially to make cigarettes less attractive to youngsters.

Almost 700,000 Europeans die from tobacco-related illnesses each year -- equal to the population of Frankfurt or Palermo -- with associated health costs running at more than 25 billion euros ($34 billion euros).

The law, which must still win approval from the 28 European Union states, will force tobacco firms to print large health warnings covering 65 percent of the packaging, with the name of the brand printed at the bottom.

That was less than the 75 percent originally proposed by the European Commission though more than the current 30 to 40 percent.

Flavored cigarettes popular with young smokers will be phased out over a period of three years.

But in a considerable watering down of the proposals, "slims" will remain on the market and menthol cigarettes will only be banned eight years after the law comes into effect.

"Slims" will no longer be available in cheaper easy-carried packs as small as a lipstick however, with the new law banning the sale of packs of less than 20.

The aim of the new legislation is to cut the number of smokers across the 500-million bloc "by two percent in the next five years," EU Health Commissioner Toni Borg said as he urged MEPs to be "daring" and support the plan.

But these first anti-smoking measures in more than a decade unleashed a tough lobbying campaign from the tobacco industry.

MEPs say Philip Morris alone invested 1.4 million euros ($1.9 million) to convince the parliament to scrap parts of the proposal and 189 amendments to the European Commission's proposal were tabled.

Last Friday, health ministers from 16 of EU states issued an appeal for a swift adoption of the law. It was supposed to go before parliament in September but was delayed on the request of the conservative, liberal and euro-sceptic groups.

The legislation, if finalized, will not come into effect before 2017.

The proposed new rules on labeling, ingredients and smokeless products also fell short of demands by some health campaigners for a total ban on company branding and logos on packets, along the lines of measures enforced in Australia.

Borg said on introducing the proposals that with 70 percent of smokers starting before the age of 18, the ambition was "to make tobacco products and smoking less attractive and thus discourage tobacco initiation among young people." - Rappler.com

Broken cigarette image from Shutterstock