New European proposals to tighten tobacco regulations have been criticised as excessive by the tobacco industry, while some MEPs complained that they had been watered down.
MEPs voted to ban packs of less than 20 cigarettes or 20g of roll your own (RYO) tobacco, increase the size of the health warnings to 65% of the packet and to ban cigarette flavours, although this would be delayed by five years in the case of menthol. Use of words such as ‘light, ‘mild’ and ‘low tar’ would also be banned along with oral tobacco.
However the original proposals had called for health warnings covering 75% of the packet, a ban on slim cigarettes and regulation of e-cigarettes as medicines, all of which were all rejected, although the UK government is already planning tougher regulation of e-cigarettes.
There will now be negotiations between the European Parliament and the EU member states to decide on the final amendments to the European Tobacco Products Directive, which could be adopted before the next European elections in May 2014.
EU health commissioner Tonio Borg described the vote as “positive”, adding: “I am confident that the revised Directive on Tobacco Products can still be adopted within the mandate of the current Parliament.”
But Carl Schlyter MEP, health spokesman for the Greens, called it “a shameful day for the European Parliament, as a centre-right majority has done the bidding of the tobacco industry and voted for weaker rules.”
Imperial Tobacco released a statement saying it “remains extremely concerned about the scale of ill-informed and excessive regulation set to be imposed on our industry.”
It said: “Health warnings that occupy well over half of the packaging of our products are unjustified and disproportionate. They will not provide any additional information on the health risks of smoking but are designed solely to stigmatise smokers.
“Misguided proposals to ban menthol tobacco products threaten to further fuel illicit trade, undermining our significant work with the European Anti-Fraud Office and EU Member States to tackle the problem.
“Proposals to ban sales of cigarettes in packs of less than 20 or roll-your own (RYO) tobacco in pouches of less than 20g will have a detrimental effect on retailers’ incomes. Nearly a third of the UK cigarette market is sold in packs of less than 20 cigarettes and just under half of the UK RYO tobacco market sold is in quantities of less than 20g. These proposals will deliver a body blow to legitimate retailers and business throughout the supply chain.
“Some elements of common sense have emerged from today’s vote however, including the rejection of calls to legislate e-cigarettes as pharmaceutical products. This is a step in the right direction which, if followed through, will spare the unnecessary destruction of an emerging consumer goods sector at a time of economic recession across the EU.
“We await the outcome of the final negotiations between the Parliament and the Council and will continue to monitor developments.”