Draft EU tobacco rules pave way for plain cigarette packs

The EU’s executive commission is to propose larger health warnings on cigarette packets and a total ban on flavourings such as menthol, a draft revision of EU tobacco rules showed yesterday.

The proposal stops short of forcing all cigarettes to be sold in plain packets carrying graphic health warnings, as required in Australia from the start of this month. But individual governments will be free to insist on such packaging if they choose to do so.

The proposed rules, aimed at preventing young people from taking up smoking, are likely to anger tobacco firms who fear tougher packaging rules will reduce already dwindling European sales.

Cigarette sales in the EU bloc have fallen sharply in recent years but — at about 33% — Europe still has a higher proportion of smokers than any other region of the globe, according to the World Health Organisation.

The commission said tobacco was the number one cause of premature death in Europe claiming 700,000 lives every year.

The draft rules have been in development for over two years and have become the focus of intense lobbying by the tobacco industry.

They played a part in the resignation of former EU health commissioner John Dalli in October, after one of his associates was accused of seeking bribes from “snus” producer Swedish Match in return for lifting a sales ban on the snuff-like product outside Sweden.

“The proposal foresees that combined warnings [picture plus text] of 75% should be displayed on both sides of the packages of tobacco products,” the draft legislation said.

“However, a member state may maintain more stringent national provisions ... in areas covered by this directive, on grounds of overriding needs relating to the protection of public health,” it said.

The draft rules also include plans to ban “slim” cigarettes and the sale of packets containing fewer than 20 cigarettes.

They maintain existing maximum limits on the amount of tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide produced by cigarettes, and would keep the EU sales ban on snus, outside Sweden in place.


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