By James Gallagher
Health and science reporter, BBC News
Anti-smoking legislation is to be introduced across the European Union in an attempt to cut the number of smokers by 2.4 million.
The rules, voted in by the European Parliament, mean picture health warnings will have to dominate the front and back of all packaging.
There will also be a ban on flavoured, such as menthol, cigarettes.
Pro-smoking groups have criticised a “nanny state mentality”, but cancer charities have backed the measures.
An estimated 700,000 premature deaths are caused by smoking across the EU each year.
The EU Tobacco Products Directive rules include:
- picture warnings must cover 65% of the front and back of every packet of cigarettes, with additional warnings on the top of the pack
- a ban on “lipstick-style” packs aimed at women – all packs must have at least 20 cigarettes to leave room for health warnings
- roll-your-own tobacco packs to have similar picture warnings
- a ban on promotional elements, such saying “this product is free of additives” or is less harmful than other brands
- a ban on flavoured cigarettes, such as menthol, fruit and vanilla
- a maximum nicotine-concentration level for e-cigarettes.
- EU-wide tracking of cigarettes to combat illegal trade
Ministers are expected to endorse the rules in March, to come into force in May 2014. Member states will have two years to introduce the legislation.
The European Commission says the new rules will “deter young people from experimenting with, and becoming addicted to, tobacco” and should lead to a 2% drop in the amount smoked over the next five years.
EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said: “Today is a great day for EU health policy.
“The new rules will help to reduce the number of people who start smoking in the EU.
“These measures put an end to products which entice children and teenagers into starting to smoke in the European Union.”
Simon Clark, the director of the pro-smoking campaign group Forest, said banning menthol cigarettes was a ban on consumer choice that “will do little” to deter children from smoking.
He also questioned the need for plain packaging legislation to remove any branding from packs, which is being considered in some EU countries, including the UK.
Uniform or plain packs have been introduced in Australia
“If health warnings are going to be even more prominent, dominating both sides of the pack, why on Earth do we need plain packaging?” he asked.
“At the very least the government should wait and see what impact the larger warnings have before introducing standardised packs which are opposed by so many people.”
The commission said plain packaging could go ahead when “justified on grounds of public health”.
Cancer Research UK’s head of tobacco policy, Alison Cox, said: “Today is a great day for health. The Tobacco Products Directive sets standards on tobacco which will bring real benefits for people’s health in the UK and across Europe.”
Archie Turnbull, the president the Smoke Free Partnership, said: “Today marks a genuine turning point for European tobacco control – and a huge stride towards a tobacco-free Europe.”
England’s Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison, said: “Today’s vote in the European Parliament to support new Europe-wide controls on tobacco is good news for people’s health.
“The Government is serious about reducing smoking rates and in particular stopping children from taking up smoking. I am very pleased that we have made a significant step towards further tough action on tobacco in the UK and across Europe.”